Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Wednesday November 27th, 2013, 12:46pm

Report: Illinois Ranks No. 5 For Reducing Pollution, Saving Water From Wind Power

A new report ranks Illinois as the fifth-best U.S. state when it comes to reducing carbon pollution and saving water thanks to wind power.

Illinois generated 7.7 million megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity through wind power in the state last year, according to the "Wind Energy for a Cleaner America" report from Environment Illinois. That wind energy prevented some 4.7 million metric tons of harmful carbon pollution from getting in the atmosphere, similar to removing 971,000 cars from the road, according to the report.

Wind power in the Prairie State also helped to save 2 billion gallons of water in 2012, which would have instead been used to support coal-fired power plants, the report reads. Those 2 billion gallons of water are enough to meet the daily needs of more than 63,000 people.

Additionally, the wind energy Illinois generated last year stopped 4,300 tons of nitrogen oxide and 5,400 tons of sulfur dioxide from being released into the air.

“Wind energy has given us a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving,” Lisa Nikodem of Environment Illinois said in a statement. “Now our state and national leaders need to take action to make sure we don’t leave this cornucopia of environmental benefits on the table.”

Illinois has emerged as a wind energy leader due to the state's strong winds near demand centers like Chicago as well as the infrastructure needed to transport the power. Most of the state's wind farms are located in central and northern Illinois. According to the Illinois Sierra Club, wind energy production has generated some 20,000 jobs in Illinois since 2007.

At the national level, wind power prevented 84.7 million metric tons of carbon emissions from being released last year, and also saved enough water to meet the demands of more than one million people, the Environment Illinois report found.

Overall, Texas took home the title of No. 1 wind-power producing state for 2012. It generated nearly 31.9 million MWh of electricity last year, displacing 19.3 million metric tons of carbon pollution. The other states that round off the top five include Iowa, California and Oklahoma.

It is estimated that by 2018, Illinois could produce an additional 7.1 million MWh of electricity on top of what was generated in 2012 if the state keeps its current wind-energy production pace, according to the report. That added energy would be equivalent to removing an extra 780,000 cars from the road, while also preserving enough water for almost 58,000 additional people.

If onshore American wind production stays on track with its pace from 2007 through 2012, and if offshore wind advances, the country could dodge 157 million metric tons of carbon emissions by 2018, which is more pollution than what the entire state of New York produced in 2011, the report noted. By 2018, wind power could also potentially preserve enough water nationally for the needs of 2.1 million people. To help achieve this goal, the report calls on policymakers "to set a bold goal for offshore wind development in the Atlantic" in order to tap into some of the best wind energy resources.

As Progress Illinois has previously reported, Illinois is nowhere near close to setting up wind farms in Lake Michigan any time soon, but state officials are currently researching which parts of the lake may be appropriate for future offshore wind energy development.

Meanwhile, the report stressed that the projected 2018 wind benefits are dependent upon long-term local, state and national clean energy policies.

Two crucial federal programs, the renewable electricity production tax credit (PTC) and the business energy investment tax credit (ITC), have played a vital role in boosting American wind-energy production, the report noted. Environment Illinois maintains that Illinois' more recent wind power success is the direct result of the PTC program, which provides a 2.3-cent income tax credit per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for utility-scale wind energy producers. Both the PTC and ITC, which can cover up to 30 percent in capital costs for new renewable energy investments, are set to expire at the end of December.

Environment Illinois argues that "fossil fuel interests and their political allies" are working fiercely to prevent these credits from being extended. The environmental group is urging federal lawmakers to extend these federal incentives before the year ends.

The report warns that a temporary expiration of the ITC and PTC would be problematic. In 2000, 2002 and 2004, years in which the PTC temporarily expired, "new wind installations dropped by 93 percent, 73 percent and 77 percent, respectively, from the previous year when the PTC had been in force."

The report continued:

The economic uncertainty created by the sporadic availability of incentives discourages businesses that manufacture turbines, gear boxes, blades, bearings and towers from entering the market or expanding, restricting the supply chain and increasing costs.

On the other hand, long-term consistency in renewable energy policy can encourage new businesses to enter the field and expand operations, bring new jobs and investments to the United States. For example, between 2005-2006 and 2012 -- a period of relative stability in clean energy initiatives -- the amount of domestically produced content in U.S. wind power projects increased from 25 percent to 72 percent, creating new jobs and economic opportunity in the United States.

State renewable electricity standards have also helped to spur wind energy creation in the country, the report reads. But Illinois' Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) needs some technical tweaking to ensure that renewable and clean energy efforts in the state continue, according to Environment Illinois officials and other wind-energy experts.

“Wind power is a cost-effective source of emissions-free energy,” said Kevin Borgia, public policy manager at Wind on the Wires, a St. Paul, Minnesota-based non-profit that works on wind power issues in the Midwest. “This report points out even more reasons why the Illinois General Assembly needs to pass legislation reforming Illinois’ broken RPS law."

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