Weather Updates

Our View: Blowing in the wind

Updated: March 31, 2012 2:05AM

Waukegan Mayor Robert Sabonjian may be on to something when he speaks of the future and a wind farm off the city’s Lake Michigan shoreline. Despite skepticism about the long-term viability of alternative energy, Illinois is proving that firms can create jobs and help the environment with wind turbines and wind farms.

In 2011, Illinois topped the nation in the number of wind turbines operating in the state — 404 — and ranked No. 2 behind California in the total amount of electricity generated by wind energy projects, according to a report by the American Wind Energy Association. Besides the bonus of wind power, jobs are to be found blowing in the wind.

There are 28 companies in Illinois that manufacture components for the wind industry which employ more than 1,000 workers. Also, the Chicago area is home to at least 50 wind energy companies which install wind turbines.

Much of the gusty growth in Illinois has come largely because of the Obama administration’s stimulus package, which has provided $2.3 billion in tax credits for advanced energy manufacturing. The tax credit of 2.2 cents per kilowatt hour produced goes to wind energy developers, which in turn has boosted wind energy’s competitiveness in the marketplace.

There is much regulatory and environmental huffing and puffing — in addition to concerns over migratory bird patterns — to overcome for this windswept proposal for a clean energy producer five miles off shore, stretching from Evanston north to Waukegan Harbor. But it could provide power for up to 100,000 households, along with hundreds of construction and maintenance jobs.

Solar and battery-powered energy schemes may be floundering, but wind power undoubtedly holds more promise. Indeed, Gov. Pat Quinn last summer signed legislation forming a Lake Michigan Offshore Wind Energy Advisory Council and charged the group with identifying areas that are favorable, acceptable and unacceptable for offshore wind development.

The Wind Energy Association is lobbying Congress to extend the tax credit for advanced energy manufacturing beyond the end of this year. Considering the stake Illinois has in this fledgling industry, the state’s congressional delegation should get behind the extension and let it breeze through Congress.

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