Energy Source is Blowing in the Illinois Wind

Because Chicago is home to approximately 80 wind companies, including corporate headquarters and turbine factories, the city is seen as a hub for the wind industry.   With plenty of farmland suited to wind turbines, Illinois has a law mandating that the state gets at least 18 percent of its electricity from wind by 2025.  Unfortunately, the state agency that decides the source of all of Illinois’ wind power has halted development of new wind farms and could hamper the state’s ability to use this resource for years to come.  The culprit is the Illinois Power Agency, which so far has not provided the necessary guarantees to facilitate new wind farm construction.  The rub is that the agency is compelled to buy electricity from the lowest-cost source to satisfy the wind-power mandate.

Unless the governor, the Illinois Commerce Commission or the state legislature acts to change the state’s renewable-energy process, few or no long-term contracts to build new wind farms will be granted.  In that scenario, the state will have to fulfill its renewable-energy requirement by purchasing credits from wind farms in other states such as Texas.  Created in 2007 to assure that ComEd and Ameren give customers the best possible deal, the Illinois Power Agency dictates where the utilities purchase their electricity.  Because the agency’s duty is to buy the cheapest electricity possible, it purchases wind power on the spot market or through short-term contracts.

Despite the Illinois Power Agency’s convoluted rules, the state is out-performing many others in terms of wind power.  The American Wind Energy Agency ranks Illinois 7th nationwide in installed wind capacity in 2009, and 14th for wind potential.  Howard Learner, an environmental law professor at Northwestern University, believes this is a make or break moment for the future of wind power in Illinois.  “There’s been recognition by everyone involved in the need for long-term contracts for new wind farms to support jobs in the state and also reduce pollution here,” Learner said.