LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Posted June 27, 2020
As Illinois’ reopening advances to Phase 4, we’re all understandably focused on the chance to get out and enjoy our favorite restaurant. It’s easy for the source of the food on those tables to be forgotten. But COVID-19 has been especially tough on our ag economy. Farm communities have endured a financial beating from trade disputes already. Just as relief was in sight, the virus arrived.
In a matter of weeks, dining habits changed the world over. Futures prices for farmers declined across the board in response. The closing of schools added to the shock for dairy in particular, with demand from cafeterias gone.
Less driving combined with an oil price war wreaked havoc on corn-based ethanol markets, offsetting the benefits of cheaper fuel. Even the good news seems bad.
But I’m upbeat. In times of uncertainty, farmers innovate. I’ve seen this across Illinois from our work on community-owned grocery stores and new, alternative crop production programs.
One of the most substantial opportunities on the horizon for rural innovation is quite literally already in sight for many of us. Illinois was the third-fastest growing state in the country for new wind energy last year. And that growth is continuing with at least 30 wind projects proposed or under construction in Illinois today.
Illinois’ leadership in winning investment from the wind industry provides a huge private stimulus opportunity for rural recovery in the wake of COVID.
In addition to construction jobs and career opportunities, wind farms support growth throughout the communities where they operate. New private spending on roads by wind operators improves our infrastructure. Additional tax revenue for county governments, and for schools in particular, funds needed improvements in our communities while reducing property tax burden on residents.
Wind farms are providing benefits statewide, too. Wind and solar are now the cheapest source of energy in the majority of Illinois counties. Innovative companies like Microsoft and Amazon are purchasing Illinois wind power and locating new projects here thanks to our diverse energy supply. Our tradition of manufacturing and engineering excellence has led to a strong supply chain supporting the industry, too. We build everything from the wind towers themselves to the construction equipment needed to erect them — powering Illinois to third in the country for wind-related employment.
The benefits wind is providing are more than a promise. They already exist.
Communities with established wind investment are better prepared for the current downturn. Giving landowners greater security to weather uncertainty, providing communities a tax base to maintain essential services, and schools the revenue they need to buy laptops and other tech that is easing the pressure of online learning.
We must not take this success for granted. Public hearings and basic government approvals have suffered as much through this shutdown as our restaurants and shops. To maintain our leadership in capturing growth from wind energy here, local governments must act decisively in adopting proven standards and providing timely reviews and permitting for wind farms.
In maintaining our national leadership on wind and renewable innovation, Illinois can secure its own economic future for our communities. And capture a new era of energy leadership for Illinois.
Program Manager, Value Added Sustainable Development Center at the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs, Western Illinois University
Macomb, IL 61455