Illinois vs. Wisconsin: Who’s ‘open for business’?

Wind promoters in Illinois are hoping to turn the tables on Gov. Scott Walker’s call for businesses to “Escape to Wisconsin.”

Last week, Walker placed a sign along Interstate 90 at the Wisconsin-Illinois border declaring his state “Open for Business” – a jab aimed in part at Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn’s recent approval of double-digit tax increases for businesses and individuals.

However, following Walker’s recent proposal to impose strict setbacks on wind turbines, a move that backers say would essentially ban wind development in the state, the Illinois Wind Energy Association is trying to turn Walker’s own words against him.

“In light of Wisconsin’s War on Wind,” IWEA says in a news release, “we introduce a call for wind developers to ‘Escape to Illinois.'”

IWEA notes that nearly 500 megawatts of wind capacity went online in the state in 2010, far more than the 20 megawatts built in Wisconsin. According to an Illinois State University study, wind development in Illinois has generated $18 million in property taxes, $8.3 million in income for landowners, and created nearly 500 permanent jobs.

However, as we noted in a story earlier this month, wind development in Illinois isn’t exactly a cakewalk. Landowners near a NextEra wind farm in the central part of the state are suing the developer with the aim of getting the project torn down, and several counties have passed strict siting rules and even moratoria on further development.

But IWEA executive director Kevin Borgia says the barriers in Illinois are nothing like what’s being proposed in Wisconsin.

“Even the strictest county setbacks in Illinois are nowhere near as extreme as what Wisconsin would have if this bill passes,” he says in the release.

Will Gov. Quinn play along? He did quickly jump into the fray over Wisconsin’s rejection of $810 million in federal high-speed rail money. And, undoubtedly still stinging over losing a bet to Walker over the Packers-Bears game, he may be looking for a new fight.

Quinn has been an aggressive promoter of renewable energy in the state; last month he signed 20-year purchase agreements for nine wind and solar projects in the state.

“Illinois is a leader in developing the green economy, and this support for renewable resources will keep us on the cutting edge,” he said at the time.

Photo by lisa_h via Creative Commons

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