Like other parts of the
Midwest, Illinois’ Macoupin County has struggled to redefine itself in
a fast-changing economy. For three straight years, unemployment rates
steadily ticked up. Then, two nearby mines closed last year, pushing
the unemployment rate above 10 percent...
Like other parts of the Midwest, Illinois’ Macoupin County has struggled to redefine itself in a fast-changing economy. For three straight years, unemployment rates steadily ticked up. Then, two nearby mines closed last year, pushing the unemployment rate above 10 percent. For those who’ve since landed new jobs, many earn only a fraction of their former paychecks.
But hope springs eternal. Researchers from the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs at Western Illinois University have been studying wind patterns over a soybean field in the heart of the county for the past year. And what they’ve found could be a new source of revenue and employment that would have seemed unlikely just a few years back: wind power.
Last weekend, the State Journal-Register ran a series of articles highlighting how, for some Illinois towns, the wind industry has continued to grow while most others have struggled. The "gob knob" wind turbine, which is set to take begin spinning in Springfield this week, marks the latest example of how the Prairie State is emerging as a national -- and potentially global -- leader in attracting sustainable energy investment. And SJ-R notes that there are more projects on the horizon:
Two of the nation’s largest developers have begun land-acquisition negotiations for major wind farms in Christian, Montgomery and DeWitt counties. Kansas-based Trade Wind Energy plans to build on two sites near Clinton, about 45 miles northeast of Springfield, and on a third near Pana, about the same distance to the southeast of Springfield.
Dominion Energy Corp., based in Virginia, plans to build a wind farm along the border of Christian and Montgomery counties, southwest of Taylorville. Dominion owns the coal-fired Kincaid power plant south of Springfield.
Last year Illinois ranked eighth in the nation for its wind output. In a recent conversation, Wind For Illinois executive director Kevin Borgia offered us some ideas for how Illinois lawmakers can adopt policies to help the Prairie State retain its edge as the industry grows. Researchers from the WIU provide some more proposals in their study “Converting Wind into Opportunity in Illinois.” (PDF) And the American Wind Energy Association recently released a report, which outlines a series of pro-wind recommendations for the incoming Obama administration and Congress to consider.
And for those wondering about the gob in “gob knob,” there’s some irony there. The S-JR points out that the name comes from “the pile of ‘gob’ or coal waste, from a Freeman United Mine that operated at the site from 1951 to 1971.”