Wind energy is taking off in Illinois and some say La Salle County is an attractive and bountiful area for new projects, but construction of new wind farms seems to have stalled locally.
More than 95 percent of Illinois’ electricity comes from coal and nuclear power sources, according to data from the Institute for Energy Research. Wind power, on the other hand, accounts for 1.4 percent of electricity generation in the state.
But wind power is on the upswing in Illinois.
The state saw a 24 percent increase in wind power generation from 2011-12, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Similarly, that data shows that through April 2013 Illinois has seen a 29.4 percent increase in electricity generated from wind power compared to the same time in 2012.
And some say La Salle County is one of the most friendly Illinois counties for wind power companies.
Adam Renz, spokesman for EDP Renewables, which operates the Top Crop I wind farm, said La Salle County has great wind resources and a government and community that are friendly to renewable energy.
“Local leaders, neighbors and citizens are very open to wind and green energy,” he said. “When you have good neighbors it makes life rosy.”
But at least one wind farm project has had trouble getting off the ground.
Iberdrola Renewables first started looking at La Salle County as a possible site for a new wind farm in 2006. It eventually acquired the necessary permits for the project, which has been named Otter Creek but has yet to break ground.
”In part, the challenge we are facing in Illinois and nationally is the lingering effect of the recession, which has resulted in a lack of demand for new electricity,” said Paul Copleman, spokesman for Iberdrola. “La Salle (County) offers great wind and the upside is that with the recent technology improvements, wind power has never been more affordable.”
Still, there is no guarantee the project will ever take off.
Copleman said construction will not start until Iberdrola is able to secure a long-term agreement from an electricity purchaser.
Since it does not know when, or if, an agreement will be made, Copleman said he can’t estimate when construction will begin or when the project will be completed.
Iberdrola’s Streator Cayuga Ridge project in Livingston County has a 20-year agreement with the Tennessee Valley Authority, according to Iberdrola’s website.
If the company is able to find a similar agreement for the Otter Creek project, it could bring some new jobs to La Salle County.
According to Kevin Borgia, manager of public policy at Wind on the Wires, there typically are 10 maintenance jobs per 100 megawatts of power generated at a wind farm. For La Salle County’s current wind farms, that’s approximately 36 jobs.
Jobs at the new wind farm would vary depending on the size of the farm, and there typically are many more jobs during the construction phase.
Though job numbers can vary based on the size of the wind farm, Copleman used the Streator Cayuga project as a reference point.
At its peak, Copleman said that project had a 450-person workforce during construction.
While he embraces wind power and thinks it should be a larger part of Illinois’ electricity generation portfolio, Copleman said it is important to have a balanced power grid fed from a variety of sources.
“It’s important to be diversified,” he said. “Just like with your 401(k) or other investments. You don’t want to rely on one thing.”
But there would have to be a significant increase in wind energy production for La Salle County’s portfolio to have a large percentage of wind power generation.
The maximum energy generation from the wind turbines in La Salle County is 360 megawatts, according to Borgia. Exelon’s nuclear plant in La Salle County, on the other hand, can generate a maximum of 2,313 megawatts.
La Salle County is home to 3 wind farms
• Invenergy’s Grand Ridge has a maximum capacity of 210 megawatts.
• EDP Renewable’s Top Crop I has a maximum capacity of 102 megawatts.
• GSG wind farm, which is partially in Grundy County, has a maximum capacity of 80 megawatts. The turbines in La Salle have a maximum capacity of 48 megawatts.
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