Wind powering job growth in central Illinois coal country

It’s time to stop calling central Illinois “coal country.” Several recent articles show the path of Illinois’ new energy future.

The Bloomington Pantagraph reports that a wind turbine manufacturer in Clinton (North of Decatur) is adding new jobs and a third shift. The company president had encouraging news for the prospect of more job growth in the Illinois wind industry.

“The Midwest is really still the best market for the wind industry in the U.S.,” Cole said this week. “With all the facilities we have, the Midwest seems to be, through these economic times, holding up the best.”

The expansion was a welcome surprise Thursday for officials in DeWitt County, where Trinity is one of the five largest employers and taxpayers, and manufacturing is the No. 2 sector. The county posted a jobless rate of 8.5 percent last month, down from a year ago but still about double pre-recession levels.

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It’s no accident that wind power is blowing jobs our way. A Reuters article explains several factors helping to promote the industry in Illinois, including the Renewable Portfolio Standard pushed by environmental groups. It requires the state to gradually ramp up renewable energy use to 25% by 2025.

That’s why new jobs are being created for yet another wind farm in Pike County.

Using the U.S. Department of Energy’s latest Jobs and Economic Development Impacts (JEDI) Wind Energy Model, Affinity Wind estimates that the wind farm could create some $44 million in local spending during construction and $3 million per year once completed. More than $1 million in annual property taxes and several hundred thousand dollars in lease payments to landowners could be generated, along with 600 new jobs.

Those numbers are only for the Pike County project. Estimates for the rest of the state are even more impressive.

According to a June 2010 economic impact study by the Center for Renewable Energy at Illinois State University, wind farm development has created about 10,000 full-time jobs during construction periods and nearly 500 permanent jobs in rural Illinois, totaling $509 million and $25 million in payroll, respectively.

Annual property taxes generate $18 million for local economies, while landowners see $8.3 million each year in extra income through leases to wind farm developers. Overall, the center expects the projects to generate $3.2 billion in economic benefits over the life of the projects.

Clean energy sources are creating jobs without the big rate hikes and subsidies being sought by the coal industry. In the last several years we’ve seen job growth in communities embracing the new energy economy, while several towns chasing clean coal pipe dreams have met disappointment.

Politicians and development officials who only look to the past by pushing coal as an economic base are doing a disservice to their community.