Wind-generated electricity—What’s at stake?

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-113338447712098.jpg’, ”, ‘A watt is one unit of electrical power; a kilowatt is 1,000 watts; and a megawatt is 1,000 kilowatts. In perspective, in summer 2002, New York City registered five days among the top 10 ever for electricity use in the city, with a peak of 10,587 megawatts, according to Con Edison. (Photo taken from atop the Empire State Building. Statistics courtesy of’);

The energy manager of a large firm’s factory in a nearby state recently phoned in alarm regarding their $80,000 monthly electric bill. He concluded that wind energy could dramatically cut their electrical costs, and they were searching for an Illinois firm to install a large generator on their property.

Two weeks ago, we spoke to a group of electrical engineers in Chicago. With rising heating costs and potential increases in the price of electricity, they felt it was time to be updated on renewable energy in Illinois. When we mentioned the size of the bill, one engineer claimed some of their customers have monthly electric bills running into millions of dollars.

In addition to industrial and commercial interests, financially strapped schools and park districts can help cut electric bills by generating electricity on site.

The governor’s Sustainable Energy Plan could encourage efficiency and renewable energy to stimulate economic development and jobs while providing some relief for high gas prices. By 2012, electrical production from renewable energy sources should increase to 8 percent from its base of one percent. Of the expected 4,000 MW (1 mega-watt equals 1 million watts) of new production from renewable sources, 3,000 MW is to come from wind.

While some projects in Illinois are progressing, others await a power purchase agreement with the local utility. Some areas have rejected wind farms, and some approved projects could be delayed if equipment shortages develop due to increased demand.

According to the Prairie Review, 37 turbines will be added to the 33 turbines at the Crescent Ridge wind farm in Bureau County. The Blue Sky wind farm in northern Bureau and Southern Lee counties will have 100 turbines. Completion for both projects is expected by the end of 2007.

In Ogle County, the proposed 80 MW wind farm is moving through the zoning process to a possible county board decision in December. In Boone County, supporters of the Heritage Wind Farm have requested an administrative review of the county board’s decision limiting the number of towers that damaged the project’s economic feasibility.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich just announced a $4 million Renewable Energy Development Fund targeted to support community scale wind energy projects of less than 20 MW. The Illinois Finance Authority will work with banks and lenders to provide loans and guarantees to qualified farmers and farm co-operatives for projects. The Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation will work with the Authority implementing the program.

The initiative provides financial assistance to farm interests who want to own and operate community wind projects. While they involve more financial risks than leasing land to wind farm projects, investors can reap greater financial rewards.

As low-cost energy supplies dwindle and environmental impacts of fossil fuel consumption intensify, renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and biofuels are becoming increasingly important components of our energy future.

If we are to make the widely advocated transition to a sustainable energy future, and wind generators are to be a part of it, they will have to be located somewhere. A wind farm will soon intrude upon a cherished Wisconsin landscape surrounding a cottage our family owned for 66 years.

It is a sacrifice we would prefer not to make. But in a society committed to endless growth, resources to fuel that growth must come from somewhere.

From the Nov. 30-Dec. 6, 2005, issue

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