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Explosion in Installed Wind Capacity Brings Big Benefits

September 28, 2010

Audio with Dave Loomis, Illinois State University Professor of Economics and Center for Renewable Energy Director. Time: 00:02:56

In less than a decade, the state of Illinois has gone from zero megawatts of installed wind power capacity to more than 1800 megawatts.

According to Illinois State University Professor of Economics Dave Loomis, a number of factors have contributed to this leap. He notes the state has a good wind resource and relatively unconstrained transmission. But he says policy has definitely played a big role as well.

"The biggest of that is our Renewable Portfolio Standard. We passed a 25% Renewable Portfolio Standard by 2025, and of that, 75% of those renewable resources have to be met through wind generation. And so that policy really was a stimulus to help get us moving in a strong way to build more wind capacity right here in Illinois."

Doing so, Loomis says, will pay dividends for the state. He says there are a number of non-economic benefits that come with wind development but there are also big economic development benefits. His university has conducted an economic impact study for the past two years — looking at the existing wind capacity in Illinois.

"We found that that impact over the life of those wind farms would lead to close to 10,000 full-time equivalent jobs during the construction period. We found close to 500 new permanent jobs created from these wind farms. The wind farms helped support the local economies by generating over 18-million dollars in annual property taxes, and then 8.3-million dollars in extra income to Illinois landowners who would lease their land to the wind farm developer. And so, overall, over the 25 year life of these projects, we would see a total economic benefit to the state of 3.2-billion dollars."

Perhaps even more impressive is that Illinois is really just tapping into the vast wind resource it has. The state has enormous wind potential. To unlock this potential — and reap the benefits — Loomis says it's important to extend the in-state preference provision of the Illinois Renewable Portfolio Standard and build new transmission.

"We've grown to this point so rapidly because there was unconstrained transmission resources available, but we're starting to bump up against resource constraints on the transmission grid. And so to really unlock more of that potential, we need more transmission to be built in pockets where it's really windy and we can connect those really windy areas with high demand areas such as Chicago."

Loomis also sees the need for better wind maps and better technology to capture wind at lower speeds.