The biggest change to the downstate Illinois landscape over the past ten to 15 years has been the number of wind turbines that dot the horizon. Wind energy has grown to be a pretty big industry in the state.
According to a recent study by the Center for Renewable Energy at Illinois State University, wind farms as they are called bring in about $6 billion to the local economy over their life span.
The center is the result of collaboration between ISU's Departments of Economics, Technology and Agriculture. It's headed up by David Loomis, an economics professor at ISU.
During Sound Ideas, Loomis said the economic impact total is remarkable. He said there are a lot of factors that determine that figure.
"It's employees that work on the wind farm but also the supply chain--manufacturing of parts for these wind turbines. And then the spillover that has to the local economy--increased spending, tax revenues, land owner payments that go to the farmer. A lot goes into that $6 billion," Loomis said.
Physically, Illinois is not the windiest state, Loomis said. States to the west, such as western Oklahoma, western Kansas and west Texas are windier. But Loomis said the thing that helps Illinois is the inter-connection to the grid to the northeastern United States.
"We're kind of this gateway and we're in this real sweet spot when it comes to how the electric grid works," he added.
Loomis said, even though they are fairly established compared to a decade ago, wind farms tend to be more controversial than when they first hit the landscape. Livingston County recently denied a wind farm application.
"People still like the big sky, the expansive farm land. As opposed to having a large group of people that are indifferent or just not knowledgeable, it seems to polarize some communities," Loomis said.
You can read more about ISU's Center for Renewable Energy in the latest edition of Redbird Scholar magazine.