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The labor of energy: Wind turbines  

Credit:  By Karina Gonzalez | The Pantagraph | Sep 5, 2012 | www.pantagraph.com ~~

BLOOMINGTON – Giant blades turn systematically some 250 feet above Steve Schwoerer’s farm, coaxing simple air into electricity and dollar signs.

“When the world is quiet, I can hear them,” Schwoerer said, and the “gentle hum” is the backdrop to early morning dairy chores. By midday, the swooshing sounds of the wind turbines are drowned out by traffic zooming along a nearby road.

The four turbines on Schwoerer’s rural Bloomington property are among thousands that have sprouted across the state in the last decade. Illinois is fourth in the nation for wind energy production, after Texas, Iowa and California.

But the future of the industry hangs on the future of a federal tax credit that saves companies millions of dollars and is set to expire on Dec. 31. That boom and bust cycle makes it hard for related manufacturers, like Trinity Structural Towers in Clinton, to stay efficient without losing workers.

David Loomis, director for Illinois State University’s Center for Renewable Energy, said the development of Illinois’ largest wind farms have benefited entire communities, with an estimated $2.6 million to local economies during construction and $114 million per year after construction. The center estimates that local municipalities can receive up to $28 million per year in local property taxes, landowners who lease their property stand to make millions and nearby property values rise when construction ends, according to center data.

The year “2012 will be the highest year for installed wind farms” in Illinois, Loomis said.

That’s because many companies have rushed to complete projects to qualify for the Production Tax Credit, including the Gamesa-owned Minonk Wind Farm, a 100-turbine farm in Woodford and Livingston counties.

Some wind energy companies have put projects on hold as they wait for a resolution from Congress.

Roby Roberts, Oregon-based vice president of communications for EDP Renewables North America, said the tax credit has been a huge help in making “wind energy cost competitive with other forms of energy.”

As reported in June, a total of five wind farm projects are on hold by EDP: two expansions of the 240-turbine Twin Groves Wind Farm in eastern McLean County and three expansions of the Bright Stalk Wind Farm near Chenoa.

Under the tax credit, companies receive 2.2 cents per kilowatt hour for the production energy from utility-scale turbines. The tax credit has been in place since the early 1990s and was most recently renewed by Congress in 2009.

Some want government aid to end permanently.

“It’s an industry that’s been heavily subsidized by the government and yet it produces only 1 percent of our overall power,” said opponent Kim Schertz of Hudson. “I’m looking out of my window (at turbines) and in the summer they are running at a 5 (percent) to 10 percent efficiency level.”

But Schwoerer said turbines add value to Central Illinois. Because companies have long-term leases, many for 30 years, the turbines protect farm land from urban sprawl. And during that time, landowners have a steady flow of income that’s not reliant on weather.

Loomis said the expiration of the tax credit coupled with the November election translates into uncertainty for the industry.

But the real tragedy is the impact to manufacturing, said Roberts. “When you have these boom and busts, it’s hard to keep factories efficiently running,” he said.

Trinity, in Clinton, makes utility-scale turbines and is starting to see fewer orders. Jack Todd, director of public affairs for parent company Trinity Industries of Texas, declined comment for this story.

In 2010, Trinity had up to 162 full-time employees, most making about $30,000 per year.

Still, Karen Buss of Ellsworth remains optimistic.

When Twin Groves was under construction, Buss spent a lot of time at the operational facility asking questions. She gathered so much knowledge that now she serves as a tour guide for elementary classrooms and other groups who visit the wind site, she said.

“Renewable energy is going to be or, rather, it’s the thing of the future,” said Buss, a retired school bus driver. “We’re kind of early on that (trend).”

By the numbers

1: McLean County ranks first in Illinois for completed wind farms, followed by LaSalle and Livingston counties.

3.2: Total economic benefit, in billions of dollars, of wind farms in 2011, including jobs, property taxes and land leasing.

22: Number of industries relevant to making wind parts.

632: Megawatts of wind capacity in Illinois in 2009, the fifth-highest in the U.S.

700: Number of turbines in 2011; as many as 2,700 expected by 2016.

2008: First wind farm takes root east of Bloomington-Normal.

8,000: Number, at minimum of components in a turbine.

SOURCE: Pantagraph archives

Inside the turbine

Some of the main components of a 1.5-megawatt turbine, which cost an estimated $2 million in 2010:

Anchor ring: 15-foot diameter steel ring secures tower to foundation.

Blades: Rotor diameter of about 252 feet.

Nacelle: Mechanical hub (gear box) of the turbine.

Tower: 213 to 262 feet, from ground to motor area

SOURCE: Pantagraph archives

School wind projects

(as of Dec. 2, 2011)

Champaign, University of Illinois

Decatur, Richland Community College

Erie, Erie CUSD No. 1

Freeport, Highland Community College

Grayslake, Prairie Crossing Charter School

Hanover Park, Kenneyville School District

Manlius, Bureau Valley School District

River Grove, Rhodes School

Stanford, Olympia School District

Normal, Heartland Community College

SOURCE: windpoweringamerica.gov

Educational programs

(as of Dec. 2, 2011)

Chicago, Illinois Institute of Technology

Danville, Danville Area Community College

Dixon, Sauk Valley Community College

Downers Grove, Gemini Energy Services

Elizabeth, Highland Community College West

Freeport, Highland Community College

Normal, Illinois State University

Oglesby, Illinois Valley Community College

SOURCE: windpoweringamerica.gov

Illinois wind farms

2003: Mendota Hills (Lee Co.) opens with 63 turbines as state’s first wind farm.

2004: Bureau Valley School District (Bureau Co.) opens with 1 turbine; state’s first public school to use wind power for electricity.

2005: Illinois Rural Electric Cooperative (Pike Co.) opens with 1 turbine as first rural electric company to use wind power for electricity; Crescent Ridge (Bureau Co.), 33 turbines, first of two-phase project.

2007-2008: Twin Groves I and II (McLean Co.), 240 turbines, largest project in Illinois.

2007: Sustainable Discovery Center (Sublette), 1 turbine, museum dedicated to green energy initiatives; GSG (Lee and LaSalle cos.), 40 turbines; Camp Grove (Marshall and Stark cos.), 100 turbines.

2008: AgriWind (Bureau Co.), 4 turbines; Providence Heights (Bureau Co.), 36 turbines, second phase of Crescent Ridge; Erie CUSD (Whiteside Co.), 1 turbine; Sherrard High School (Mercer Co.), 1 turbine.

2008-2009: Grand Ridge I, II, III, IV (LaSalle Co.), 140 turbines.

2009: Great Escape Restaurant (Schiller Park), 1 turbine, first in Cook Co., first in urban area; Aldridge Electric (Lake Co.), 1 turbine; City of Geneseo, 2 turbines; Gob Nob (Montgomery Co.), 1 turbine; Rail Splitter (Tazewell Co.), 67 turbines; Eco Grove (Stephenson Co.), 67 turbines; Top Crop (LaSalle Co.), 68 turbines; Richland Community College (Decatur), 1 turbine; Lee/DeKalb (Lee and DeKalb cos.), 151 turbines; Porta High School (Menard Co.), 1 turbine; Other World Computing (Woodstock), 1 turbine; Arends Bros. (Melvin), 1 turbine.

2010: Cayuga Ridge South (Livingston Co.), 150 turbines.

Under construction (as of 2011): Big Sky Wind Facility (Bureau and Lee cos.), 114 turbines; Top Crop II (LaSalle Co.), 132 turbines; White Oak (McLean Co.), 110 turbines.

SOURCE: illinoiswindmills.org

Source:  By Karina Gonzalez | The Pantagraph | Sep 5, 2012 | www.pantagraph.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments via e-mail.

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