Central Illinois must engage economic development and environmental sustainability simultaneously.
We are all aware of the seemingly endless concern about environmental sustainability. The calls for change are universal. No longer are the warnings limited to Al Gore and the Sierra Club—now it’s the evening news anchor, it’s friends and neighbors, it’s multinational corporations. Green issues pervade the newspaper, and they’re the topic of operational meetings at work. Our nation’s scientific societies and journals confirm the reality of global warming, accelerated species extinction and resource depletion. Without corrective action, these issues have the potential to alter our very way of life.
So what can we in central Illinois do to support environmental sustainability? How can we collectively diminish the negative impact of our consumption patterns and increase the viability of our region now and in the future? There are certainly a plethora of options that we can all take on the individual level, but there are also large-scale policy initiatives that need to be addressed to improve our environmental situation. We have taken a number of positive green steps, and there is a great deal of potential for present and future action. Private firms and public figures are working to improve our natural world, using inventiveness, fiscal measures and existing resources to preserve and improve the environment.
The agricultural economy of our region has a vital role to play in energy production and sustainability. Renewable biofuels from corn, soybeans and other crops diversify our energy resources, providing clean-burning alternative resources. The Economic Development Council for Central Illinois recently endorsed the National 25 x ’25 Energy Alliance. “This organization is working toward utilizing renewable energy for at least 25 percent of America’s energy usage by the year 2025, while continuing to produce abundant and affordable food,” according to Vickie Clark, EDC Chief Operating Officer.
At the Peoria NEXT Innovation Center, creativity, technical ability and broad vision combine to lead the charge in environmental sustainability. The technological commercialization supported at the Innovation Center has the potential to positively impact the environment, and it is important that the startup firms are supported and kept in the region. The market for environmentally sustainable products is growing exponentially, and the goods and services provided by Peoria NEXT firms seek to capitalize on the opportunity. These companies will not only improve the environment, but they will bring profits, growth and stability to our region.
For instance, companies like Firefly Energy and EcoThermics are working to satisfy the green market. Firefly Energy’s batteries use less lead and are lighter than traditional batteries, plus they exhibit improved performance and longevity. EcoThermics is working to reduce ozone-depleting refrigerants and improve efficiency in heating and cooling applications. As Peoria NEXT and area investors support these firms and others like them, the region is taking large steps toward environmental sustainability. The technological commercialization of startup firms will improve the local environment and economy, but it will also extend our positive impact throughout the world as our companies compete in the global marketplace.
While it is important to support our firms in the private market, it is also critical to utilize our clean resources to the best of our ability. With few drawbacks, wind potential in central Illinois is ideal for industrial power applications. Wind energy is growing rapidly, and it can already provide electricity to over 4.5 million American households. Illinois currently boasts the eighth-highest wind production of any state, and our potential capacity to harness the wind ranks 16th.
Our state’s tremendous wind resources can create and sustain a great number of jobs, provide increased tax revenues and benefit farmers through payments for the use of their land. To illustrate, oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens is investing billions in wind despite the fact that he claims he hasn’t gone green. Instead, he is pouring personal funds into wind farms in pursuit of profit and to reduce American dependence on foreign oil. The fact is, wind power will comprise an ever-increasing percentage of America’s energy portfolio, and the opportunity exists for central Illinois to capitalize economically.
Aside from wind, solar potential exists in the Peoria area. Peoria’s potential to harvest solar energy isn’t all that different than Houston, Texas, for instance, and this information might be a cause for significant investments in energy from the sun. Additionally, the prospects for biofuel are still attractive as new crops and technologies increase the yield of these alternative fuels. Firms and individuals at Peoria NEXT and the National Center for Agriculture Utilization Research (Ag Lab) are striving for biofuel solutions that could assist in the pursuit of sustainability. While solar power and biofuels aren’t end-all solutions to the energy crisis, they have the potential to contribute significantly to a reduced dependence on imported, carbon-emitting fossil fuels.
Until recently, the incentives for green energy in Illinois have been somewhat limited. Although this hasn’t been an extreme issue, the main inducement available for wind energy investments has been the establishment and extension of enterprise zones. Other options include state grants for investments in biofuels and Department of Energy dollars that come our way. That is, until the State Treasury’s recent initiative paved the way for the universal application of green energy by any business entity in Illinois.
State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias has used the power of the purse to enable any business, non-profit or government organization to affordably invest in energy-efficient equipment and improvements. A one-year pilot program, the Treasurer’s Office will use the State’s investment portfolio as collateral, and any entity that engages in a green project over $10,000 will be able to take advantage of below-market interest rate loans.
Giannoulias’ program will encourage environmental sustainability and economic growth and stability. The Treasurer is incentivizing socially desirable behavior through the use of below-market interest rates, and it is encouraging to see the government taking steps to reduce pollution while giving businesses total freedom in their decision-making process. By making green energy and equipment more affordable, Giannoulias is effectively making it more expensive to pollute. Environmentally sustainable equipment is often expensive up front, but it offers savings in the long run. Now, firms will be able to more affordably purchase green technology, saving dollars and pollution in the present and future. More information about the Treasurer’s program is available at www.edc.centralillinois.org.
Private firms are working to provide economically beneficial and environmentally sustainable products, and we possess the natural resources to reduce our dependence on carbon-emitting energy sources. Our State Treasurer is offering pragmatic solutions that make sense for the environment and the economy. While we must all be individually aware of our unique impact on the environment, it is critical that we see the larger picture and support the green firms and initiatives that exist in and around Peoria. Utilize the Treasurer’s incentives for your business, advocate for a proposed wind farm or support the technological commercialization occurring at Peoria NEXT. Make your voice heard and help lead central Illinois in environmental sustainability. iBi