Lawmaker pushes for Chicago to join the race for 1st offshore wind farm on the Great Lakes: ‘This is not pie-in-the-sky.’

If state Rep. Marcus Evans has his way, Chicago will enter the race to build the first offshore wind farm on the Great Lakes.

Evans has introduced a bill that lays the groundwork for a proposed wind farm in Lake Michigan, about 10 miles from the shores of the Southeast Side. The bill sets up a fund that would help the state to compete for federal money, including $230 million for port infrastructure projects available from the U.S. Department of Transportation.


Illinois would enter the race behind Ohio — where the Icebreaker wind farm in Lake Erie recently won a court battle that should allow construction of a demonstration project to proceed — and New York state, which is studying the feasibility of a Lake Erie wind farm.

“This is happening,” said Evans, a Chicago Democrat. “This is not a pie-in-the-sky thing. This is an opportunity for development.”


His bill, the Illinois Rust Belt to Green Belt Pilot Program Act, is expected to create over 1,200 jobs. Evans would like to locate the project in the waters off the Southeast Side, a majority Black and Latino area that has suffered from high levels of industrial pollution.

Fiercely proud of their home, residents of the Southeast Side — long a toxic dumping ground — are rising up against polluters ]

Introduced in January, the bill has been referred to a House committee.

Currently, northern Illinois receives 3% of its electricity from wind, 1% from solar, 38% from natural gas, 34% from nuclear, 22% from coal and fossil fuels, and the remainder from other sources, according to a ComEd environmental disclosure report.

New climate laws offer Illinois residents a chance to save around 70% on rooftop solar ]

Great Lakes wind farms face technical challenges, including ice in winter, experts say.

But a 2014 study by the U.S. Department of Energy indicates that the Great Lakes have the potential to produce 6 GW of energy — enough to power about 4.5 million homes.

The project — including construction and operation — is intended to benefit Black and Latino neighborhoods, in keeping with the state’s goal of an inclusive transition to clean energy.

“Whatever we do, it should be equitable,” said Evans.

Wind turbines in McLean County on Aug. 24, 2022. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

Supporters of the project include People for Community Recovery, the Sierra Club and the Chicago Federation of Labor, Evans said.


At Blacks in Green, a green community economic development nonprofit based in West Woodlawn, founder and CEO Naomi Davis said she strongly supports the concept of a wind farm on Lake Michigan, but she is concerned that Black people will be excluded from the jobs the proposed bill would generate.

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Blacks in Green is withholding its support of the bill until the relevant labor unions provide a structured plan for racial diversity and inclusion, complete with metrics, accountability and timetables, Davis said.

“We’re high on wind,” she said. “But America has been built on our backs, and we’re just done with that model.”

Only about 5% of U.S. construction workers are Black, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The bill sets up a bidding process for companies that want to construct the 12- to 15-turbine wind farm and requires that bidders file equity and inclusion plans.

“I hope Indiana doesn’t beat us to this,” said Evans, who sees Illinois, which passed an ambitious clean energy and jobs bill last year, as the obvious choice for a pioneering offshore wind project.


“If someone else takes the lead in the Midwest, that’s kind of crazy to me,” he said.

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via The Windy City Word

September 2, 2022 at 06:13AM

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