Long Fight for a Wind Turbine Comes to a Head

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Changing how electricity is generated is a crucial piece of solving the climate change puzzle. Current methods of electricity generation produce 40% of C02 emissions in the US, and on campus generation accounts for 68% of the UIUC carbon. In the spring of 2010, the campus enacted a Climate Action Plan which includes a commitment to source 5% of energy and electricity from renewables by 2015. For the past seven years, students at the University of Illinois have been lobbying for a wind turbine for their campus, on the south farms. The 1.5 MW turbine would supply around 1% of the campus’s electricity use, and serve as an important first step towards the University’s renewables commitment. It would reduce demand on Abbott Power Plant, the University’s coal-fired plant; the biggest source of SO2 emissions in the county. Currently, the University is in the process of reviewing bids for the turbine, but if a contract isn’t signed soon, the project is in serious danger.
The approximately 4 million dollar project relies on a 2 million dollar grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, due to expire in spring of 2011. The grant has already been extended twice, and is unlikely to be extended again unless construction is in progress by May or June. In order for this to happen, a contract will need to be approved at the January meeting of the University Board of Trustees. UI students have contributed $500,000 to the project in the form of a grant from the Student Sustainability Committee, which allocates student green fees. Students voted in 2003 and again in 2010 to fund projects of this nature with a now $14 per semester fee. Yet as students committed themselves to investing in renewable energy, the University retrenched, announcing during finals in 2008 that the project would be put on hold due to budgetary constraints. Ideally, the wind turbine would already have been installed then, but University stalling postponed it until it no longer seemed feasible. That was until 2010, when, thanks to student and faculty lobbying, the project was revived under Chancellor Bob Easter. After one close call, advocates of the project are deeply committed to seeing it through.
Most wind power developments sit in rural areas, often on property leased from farmers, and for the most part far out of sight of those who use the power they produce.
The proposed site on the south farms, near to the intersection of Philo and Old Church Roads in Urbana, is much closer to its users, and this is a good thing. Awareness of where power comes from is an important step in building public support for investment in renewable energy. Out of sight of the smokestacks of coal fired power plants, it is easy to ignore the impacts of electricity generation on our air and water quality. Coal-burning power plants, the source of most electricity in Illinois, produce the highest greenhouse gas emissions, and among the highest levels of air pollutants of any energy source. In contrast, observing wind turbines provokes consideration of energy issues and discussions over where our power comes from.
The wind turbine project is a pioneering first step toward further investment in renewable by the University and in the Champaign-Urbana area. It is vital that it happens now, while grant funding is available.
Community support, in the form of letters, emails and calls to University administration and the Board of Trustees has the power to influence the University to move faster on this project. Together, the University and the community can make this happen.

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