SOUTH DEERING — State legislators are taking the “first step” toward building an offshore wind farm on the Southeast Side by proposing the state invest in programs that would enable more workers from underrepresented communities to work on the project.
State Rep. Marcus Evans (D-33rd) introduced a bill Thursday to create a “Rust Belt to Green Belt” fund to support workforce diversity programs. It’s in service of a pilot project that would create at least 150 megawatts of wind power.
The 185-page bill would set rules for future offshore wind projects, such as requiring contractors to submit plans for hiring from underrepresented populations.
It would also require the Illinois Power Agency to begin seeking offshore wind project proposals from contractors within 360 days of the bill’s passage.
If passed, the legislation would position the state to pursue federal grant funding to train Black and Brown workers, women and veterans for construction careers, state Sen. Robert Peters (D-13th) said.
“This is an opportunity to be able to hit at that Southeast Side history of industrial revolution, as well as the Southeast Side’s history when it comes to the environmental justice revolution,” Peters said.
The legislation introduced Thursday is similar to Peters’ proposed amendment of a bill passed by the House in April. That bill has stalled in the Senate’s assignments committee since June.
Training and diversity requirements would better equip Southeast Siders to build and work on the offshore wind farm, Peters said.
The bill’s passage wouldn’t immediately lead to construction, but it would create a framework for completing the wind farm project in the future, Peters said.
Peters offered few details about a potential wind farm, saying it is a “kernel” of an idea that needs to be watered. Creating the Rust Belt to Green Belt fund would be a “first step” toward completing the project, he said.
“Right now, the [Illinois International] Port would be the place where we would ideally want to see [the wind farm] at,” Peters said. “The idea is to have it be perpendicular off the port, if we were able to do it on the lake.”
If the legislation passes, the immediate next steps would be to secure federal infrastructure money for the fund and to work with community groups to make residents aware of job and training opportunities, Peters said.
“This is an opportunity for us, in an area that has historically been part of the Rust Belt, to say we can be leaders in that transformation to becoming a green belt,” Peters said. “I want to make sure we’re doing all we can to create good, equitable, clean development in Illinois.”
Blacks in Green, an environmental and community development nonprofit based in Woodlawn, is one of the proposal’s early supporters.
An offshore wind farm project would “set the bar for equitable, clean energy projects that will spur historic investment in underserved communities,” President and CEO Naomi Davis wrote to Deputy Governor Christian Mitchell in October.
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