Illinois the Windy State

Illinois the Windy State

Mayor Rahm Emanuel mounted the stage at the 2013 American Wind Energy Association Conference on Monday morning to a round of applause, especially when the Mayor promised no windy city jokes. For a fact, wind is no joking matter. It’s economic seriousness on a colossal scale. Here are a few figures to illustrate. Illinois’ wind energy supply chain represents over 100 companies with upwards of 15,000 jobs. That’s more than a puff of air (there will be more of these useless puns so batten down the hatches). There are roughly 17 manufacturing jobs created for every megawatt of power developed, translating into over 2,500 jobs for a 150 megawatt wind farm. The Environmental Law and Policy Center analysis points out that most of those jobs go to small or medium sized companies.

Chicago is host to some big multinational companies as well like Acciona, a $7 billion Spanish-based corporation, Fleming Energy, an Irish company based here is currently exploring wind investment opportunities. Mainstream Renewable Power also an Irish company with its U.S. headquarters in Chicago, plans to invest $1.6 billion over the next four years in three Illinois wind farm developments. Goldwind, a Chinese turbine equipment manufacturer is based here. The list goes on to include companies from India to Germany. Invenergy has its global headquarters in Chicago and it develops, owns and operates large scale renewable energy facilities in North America and Europe. The company has developed twenty U.S. wind farms, two of which are in Illinois. So maybe we should be called the Windy State.

Our status among wind producers is pretty amazing when you consider that we rank 14th in wind resources but fifth in new wind capacity for 2012. According to my resident science geek and an article in Midwest Energy News this is in part due to design improvements allowing for taller towers and bigger blades. This means more available wind. It also helps that Illinois has a lot of farm land. Farmers lease land to wind farm companies. It’s a one hand washes the other deal, sweet. All of this is great but it doesn’t solve one huge problem. About 50% of the energy created is lost in transmission from generation to use. That’s a lot of loss. So me and my science adviser also known as my husband hit the trade exhibition floor to ask a question. What is available for installation in urban areas?  You know installed close to use and not polluting the neighborhood.

We heard more about what is not possible. In fact wind turbines installed in Milwaukee a dozen years ago are standing still like weird sculptures. The city passed laws preventing wind turbine use within 10 miles of residential areas! You can’t really blame them. Large wind turbines make a lot of noise and if you ever tune into You Tube to see a video of a wind turbine losing a blade in high wind, well let’s just say it’s scarier than the hockey mask guy. I personally would not want that looming over my house. So what are we to do? It makes sense to generate power closer to usage points. Yes we have solar and geothermal but there has to be a way to harness wind in THE WINDY city.

Companies are working on that very issue. We had an opportunity to interview the representative from a Spanish company, Kliux but more about that in tomorrow’s blog.  Hold your breath or not.


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