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It's Getting "Windy" Again in Illinois


Monday, May 20, 2013   

LISLE, Ill. - At the end of last year, there were reports of layoffs in the wind power industry because of uncertainty over whether Congress would continue the wind power production tax credit that was expiring in December. But now that the credit has been extended for a year, wind power is picking up again, and Illinois is now the fourth-largest wind energy producer in the nation.

According to John Purcell, vice president of the energy division at Leeco Steel, his company has had to triple the size of its Lisle office in part because it's getting so many orders for steel plates for wind towers.

"Illinois is open for business for wind, and the industry is hiring and the wind industry stands to be busy again," Purcell declared.

The wind-energy industry now employs more than 75,000 workers in Illinois and 42 other states. Nearly 200 companies in Illinois are involved in the supply chain.

Environmentalists looking for moves away from what they call "dirty" energy, meaning fossil fuels, now are hoping that tax reform legislation coming up in Congress will include incentives for wind energy that don't expire every year - that is, just like the continuing incentives received by the oil, gas, and nuclear industries.

Purcell said wind technology is becoming more efficient.

"The towers are getting taller, which means you catch better wind and so you have those turbines are spinning stronger, better, longer, faster," he said.

Dave Hamilton, Director for Clean Energy with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, said clean wind energy is good for the environment and it's good for the economy. But, he said, the increased competition from wind is not going over well with the dirty-energy companies. Hamilton suspects that's why nuclear and oil interests lobbied against the production tax credit last year.

"You know, what really hurts them is the growing amount of wind, because the more it grows the lower the wholesale price of power," he declared. "Turbines may be more expensive or less expensive to build, but once those things are up the cost of the wind doesn't change."

Unlike fossil fuels, wind is free. An Exelon executive recently told BusinessWeek that the wind industry could create so much competition that some nuclear plants might have to be retired early. He called the wind industry "oversubsidized," but the Environmental Law Institute found that over a two-year period, fossil fuel companies received $50 billion in energy subsidies while the wind production tax credit cost just over $1 billion.

Hamilton points out that the wind production tax credit expires, while fossil fuel subsidies do not. He's hoping tax reformers will level the playing field for renewable energy industries such as wind.

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