CHICAGO – Speaking at a wind energy conference in Chicago today, Lt. Governor Sheila Simon said that community colleges are playing a key role in preparing workers for green jobs of the future and keeping the state on track to meet its ambitious alternative energy goals.
Simon said the state’s first associate degree program for wind turbine technicians received accreditation in 2008. Today, 10 community colleges offer a degree or certificate program in wind energy, according to the Illinois Community College Board.
The programs have helped fill the 598 permanent jobs supported by Illinois’ 17 largest wind energy projects, said Simon, citing a new economic impact study from the Center for Renewable Energy at Illinois State University.
“Community colleges are responding to market demand for clean energy by preparing students for good-paying, green jobs that stay here in Illinois,” Simon said. “To continue building our state’s green economy, we need Illinois students to train at in-state schools for highly skilled jobs designing, building, assembling and maintaining wind turbines. I am working to ensure our students have the resources to complete degree and certificate programs in wind energy.”
The 2007 Illinois Power Agency Act created a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) that mandates 25 percent of Illinois energy come from renewable resources by 2025. Three-quarters of those resources must be from wind.
As of April, Illinois ranked 7th in the United States in existing wind-powered generating capacity and 16th in the U.S. in potential capacity thanks to recent growth, spurred in part by the RPS policy. Illinois’ wind power capacity has increased from 50 megawatts in 2003 to over 2,400 megawatts in 2010 at 31 wind energy projects across the state.
“If the state and wind industry work together to maximize our wind potential, Illinois could increase capacity to 10,000 megawatts and surpass the state’s 2025 goal,” Simon said.
Simon also credited several community colleges for building wind turbines on their campuses, utilizing grants from state, federal and private sources. This includes schools Lt. Governor Simon has visited on her Complete College Tour, such as Lake Land College in Mattoon, Richland Community College in Decatur and Southwestern Illinois College in Belleville.
“Having wind turbines on campus allows colleges to cut the cost of energy bills and provide students with hands-on experience,” Simon said. “I will work with Illinois’ community colleges to help identify state, federal and private grants that can be used to build wind turbines.”
The Advancing Wind Power in Illinois conference was the fifth annual wind energy conference organized by the Illinois Wind Working Group, which is administered by Illinois State University and works with various wind energy stakeholders to promote the development of wind energy in Illinois. The conference was co-hosted by the Center for Renewable Energy at Illinois State University and Galvin Center for Electricity Innovation at the Illinois Institute of Technology.