Lake Michigan wind farm bill moves in Springfield | Crain’s Chicago Business

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Peters in a phone interview described the plan as a win-win for business, labor and environmentalists, one that would create hundreds of jobs and hopefully spur creation of more in a part of the city that needs jobs. Peters has dubbed the legislation the “Rust Belt to green belt” act.

But key details are not yet available, such as the total cost of the project. And one top environmental leader immediately raised significant concerns about the proposal, among them whether state ratepayers would end up footing the bill, whether the development would violate the “public use” doctrine that generally limits Lake Michigan uses for public purposes and whether such a project even would be feasible given that the lake regularly freezes and thaws.

“These questions have not been fully addressed,” said Environmental Law & Policy Center Executive Director Howard Learner, who nonetheless stopped short of opposing the bill.

Under Peters’ measure, which was filed and tabled during the Legislature’s spring session but which the senator now hopes to fast track in the General  Assembly’s lame duck session, a pilot project would seek to take advantage of new tax credits and infrastructure grants being offered by the federal government.

The project would involve 10 to 12 turbines whose electricity would be linked to nearby port areas, Peters said. It is possible that private capital and federal funds would not pay all of the costs, but any impact on ratepayers would be “minimal,” Peters said, shrugging off Learner’s concerns.

Wind farms are an increasingly common site in Europe, Peters said—as well as on downstate Illinois farmland.

For the Southeast Side, this is not another case of being stuck with a development that more prosperous areas might reject, but an opportunity, Peters said. The turbines will be so far out in the lake, perhaps 10 miles, that a person holding out their thumb would completely block site of them, he said.

Learner did not dispute that, but did assert that the big coastal wind farms in Europe that Peters referenced are in salt water, not fresh water. That could add big operational complexities on top of construction costs that likely would be at least six to eight times the cost of building a turbine on land.

The measure does require that developers of the pilot program reach a project labor agreement with unions to effectively guarantee workers union wages.

Advocates may have more to say at a news conference tentatively scheduled for tomorrow in Springfield. If the measure fails to pass in this week’s short lame duck session, it could well be held over the assembly’s regular spring session.

Update: According to Learner, the state subsidy for the wind farm would be considerable. As now drafted, the bill would provide up to $34 million annually to the facility via a surcharge on electric bills statewide. That’s $680 million over term, and Learner believes the eventual subsidy could be much larger.

The potential megawatts of electricity to be produced has been corrected in this updated story. A previous version said the bill would use money from taxpayers to support the wind farm. In fact, it would require consumers and businesses to pay more on their electric bills.

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January 6, 2023 at 07:01AM

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