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South Chicago, East Side

Lake Michigan Wind Farm Plan Moves Forward After House Approves ‘Rust Belt To Green Belt’ Fund

The bill, if signed into law, would help Illinois apply for federal funding to build a wind farm and establish a critical source of clean energy, supporters say.

Lake Michigan is seen from Calumet Park in East Side on Sept. 26, 2022.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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EAST SIDE — A bill that would set the stage for Illinois to build its first offshore wind farm — and possibly the first on the Great Lakes — overwhelmingly passed the state’s House and is now being considered by state senators.

South Side Rep. Marcus Evans introduced a bill in February to create a “Rust Belt to Green Belt” fund in support of an offshore wind project in Lake Michigan that would generate at least 150 megawatts of power.

The 186-page bill wouldn’t guarantee the wind farm’s construction, but it would create a framework for completing the project by allowing the state to apply for federal infrastructure funds, supporters have said.

“We need more clean energy development” if the state is going to reach its goal of relying entirely on clean energy by 2050, Evans said Friday.

“The time is now” to create a fund that could pursue the federal dollars, as “it’s kind of like brothers and sisters when it comes to the Midwest — we’re all in competition” for the federal funds, Evans said.

“There’s going to be a first state to do this, there’s going to be a last state to do this, and some states may not do this at all,” he said. “I hope we hurry up and do this so we can beat Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana.”

The bill passed the House in a 85-21 vote March 24 and is now in the Senate’s assignments committee. South Side Sen. Robert Peters is the main Senate sponsor of the bill.

The legislation would also set rules for future offshore wind projects, such as requiring developers to submit plans for hiring from underrepresented populations.

Project bids would be graded and scored on a 100-point scale, split between the proposal’s cost, the bidder’s “viability” as a developer and the bidder’s creation of a “detailed equity and inclusion plan” for the project.

Evans and Peters previously floated placing the facility on the Southeast Side, about 15 miles into Lake Michigan from the Illinois International Port District at 3600 E. 95th St.

Evans said last week “there’s no tentative plan” to build the project there — and right now, “there’s no plan at all” for where it could be built.

The Illinois Power Agency and the developer could place the wind farm “in Waukegan … on the North Side of Chicago — anywhere along the Lake Michigan coast,” he said.

“All the bill does is lay out the framework,” Evans said.

Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
State Sen. Robert Peters (left) and state Rep. Marcus Evans Jr. chat with residents in front of photos of offshore wind turbines during a September community meeting on the proposed Rust Belt to Green Belt pilot project at the South Chicago branch library, 9055 S. Houston Ave.

Southeast Siders raised questions about placing the wind farm in their community at a September town hall meeting.

Some residents called for the legislators to require a community benefits agreement to ensure the project’s developer meets the neighborhood’s needs and quality-of-life issues.

The bill that passed the House requires the developer to reach at least one community benefits agreement with local organizations.

Such an agreement would ensure jobs generated from the project go to Black and Brown residents of the community in which it’s built, Evans said.

Legislators’ promises of union jobs have drawn skepticism from some residents, who said locals may not have the proper training opportunities to qualify for jobs connected to the project.

Others have called for the legislation to more directly benefit the Southeast Side if it’s there. Suggestions included direct subsidies to neighbors for rooftop solar energy that would supplement the new wind power, or state funding to local community groups for job readiness programs.

The bill allows Rust Belt to Green Belt grantees to use the funds to “recruit, prescreen, and provide pre-apprenticeship skills training” for work on the offshore wind project.

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