When St. Louis University (SLU) business professor Trey Goede and his students sought to turn their plan for a $250 million wind facility into reality, they headed to neighboring Illinois, where the wind is powerful and so is clean power demand.
They aren't alone. Once known only for coal and nuclear, a robust renewable energy policy is making Illinois a magnet for commercial wind farm developers of all stripes.
The SLU classroom project, which became in 2007, will break ground this spring on the first 36 megawatts of a 150 megawatt-plan. The second phase is slated for 2012. The 75-turbine project in the state's western Pike County is on par with other utility-scale wind farms cropping up across the industrial Midwest.
Goede, Affinity Wind's founder and CEO, said his decision to set up the facility out of state was fairly simple.
"At the time, Illinois had a renewable portfolio standard (RPS), and Missouri did not," Goede told SolveClimate News. "Illinois has been the benefactor of a strong RPS."
In its , the state ordered utility companies to purchase 25 percent of energy from renewable sources in 2025, an aggressive rate compared with the 10 to 15 percent targets of neighboring states.
Aggressive RPS, Transmission Lures Developers
Particularly enticing to Goede, however, was that 18 percent of Illinois' 25 percent mandate must be from wind, a move that is spurring demand for the renewable resource.
The state is already outperforming others in supply. While Illinois ranks 14 among states for potential wind capacity, it is sixth nationwide in installed wind power for 2010, with nearly 2,000 megawatts, according to the .
Unlike its windier and sparsely populated Midwest counterparts, such as North and South Dakota, high-voltage transmission lines already crisscross Illinois to service its vast energy industry, which counts more nuclear power plants than any other state and has the third-largest coal reserves nationwide.
The lines are also closer to major cities like Chicago and could reach up to 50 million people in a dozen East Coast states on a shared electric grid run by , a regional transmission organization.
"This is another reason why we're seeing Illinois move forward a lot faster" than other states in wind energy development, said Kevin Borgia, executive director of the , which is not affiliated with the national organization.
Barry Matchett, a co-legislative director at the in Chicago, said that Illinois ranks among the top five states for both electricity production and consumption in the country, signaling a large market for renewable energy.
"This is a big state to have an RPS in," he said.
To Goede, the state's policies and well-developed infrastructure spelled opportunity for his students' business plan.
Landowners, Utilities Eager for Wind's Arrival
The project started as a field trip nearly four years ago, when the SLU professor began taking students on the one-and-a-half-hour drive to Pike County to meet with landowners, local utilities and farmers to learn what needed to be done to carry out a large-scale wind project.
The first step was finding transmission lines there with enough space to carry power generated by a new wind farm.
The next was garnering local support, which was relatively easy to achieve. Projects in more populated counties usually face opposition from residents concerned about wind turbines generating noise and blocking towns' potential expansion. But Pike County, a division of around 17,000 people spread over 500,000 acres, was eager for wind development to bring money to the area, said Blake Roderick of the Pike County Farm Bureau.