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Congress Blowing Illinois' Wind Industry Away

By JoshMogerman in News on Feb 18, 2012 10:00PM

Wind turbines in McLean County [Tim Lindenbaum]

If you've driven south on I-55 at night in recent months, it's been clear that the wind industry is booming in Illinois. Air traffic warning lights on the top of hundreds of wind turbines flicker red from horizon to horizon as the highway cuts through three large wind farms about an hour out from Chicago. The 404 new turbines installed in state during 2011 was the highest total in the nation, but that growth looks set to fade quickly as Congress dithers on re-upping an important tax credit.

While the chattering class in D.C. shouts about jobs, many are willing to let a production credit pass that has buoyed the industry by giving wind developers a 2.2 cent per kilowatt hour of electricity produced. It doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up to huge savings that have helped fuel the boom here. Crain’s D.C. reporter, Paul Merrion notes the local impact:

If Congress doesn't act soon, it will be a big blow to a fast-growing industry that employs about 1,500 directly in Illinois, plus another 3,800 among local suppliers, according to a Navigant Consulting Inc. study for the American Wind Energy Association. The study predicts a drop to about 800 direct jobs and 1,100 supplier jobs by next year if the tax credit expires.
That is a significant hit to the economy. And the layoffs have already started at parts suppliers like Lisle’s Leeco Steele, which expects to dump one third of its workforce as new wind projects dry up.

Not surprisingly, the battle in Congress seems to be split along party lines. But with recent local bipartisanship on display in the ongoing battle over a bone-headed transportation bill, perhaps the State’s delegation in D.C. can push back partisan politics to protect Illinois’ economy? Probably not…