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Group says there’s potential energy in Illinois’ wind sails

By MARY SCHUERMANN KUHLMAN, Public News Service – Illinois

SPRINGFIELD – There’s encouraging news about Illinois’ potential for wind energy development in a new analysis.

The 17 states spanning the central U.S. are known as the “Wind Belt,” with roughly 80 percent of the nation’s current and planned wind-energy capacity.

And Jeff Walk — director of conservation programs with The Nature Conservancy in Illinois — said his group’s new mapping tool, called “Site Wind Right,” uses wind, land use and wildlife data to detect areas where conflicts between wind development and wildlife are likely to be minimal.

“We identified low-risk areas in that Wind Belt that could generate something on the order of about 100 gigawatts of energy,” said Walk. “Which is roughly equivalent to the total energy generation potential that the United States has today.”

In Illinois, roughly two million acres are available for wind development. Walk said if that was built out, it could generate enough energy to power a city the size of Chicago.

Walk said he hopes the mapping tool will be used by developers, power purchasers and policymakers in planning low-risk wind projects.

Walk said he sees wind energy development as an integral part of meeting the nation’s climate goals. However, he notes, when it isn’t properly planned, wind development can negatively affect wildlife and ecosystems – in part because it requires large areas of land.

“We need to be fully supportive of a rapid transition to renewable energy sources,” said Walk, “and acknowledging that all forms of energy generation have some environmental impact.”

He added that siting wind development in areas of relatively low conservation impact also can reduce the timeline for project approval, as well as project costs.

Disclosure: The Nature Conservancy – Midwest Region contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Environment, Sustainable Agriculture, Water.

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