University should follow local lead on wind turbines

Invenergy, a Chicago-based company, has leased 25,000 acres north of Route 74 with plans to build over 130 wind turbines next year. Local farmers have leased much of this land to the company, and many are enthusiastic about both making money and promoting green energy at the same time. Their attitude comes as a sharp contrast to that of the University’s administrators.

In 2004, with the direction of Student Sustainability Committee, the University embarked on a project to install three wind turbines on the South Farms, funded in part by the Committee and state grants, and the rest by the University. Late last year, the University scrapped the plan, citing budget problems. The University should follow the lead of local farmers in green initiatives.

The University’s decision to scrap the wind turbine plans came as a disappointment to sustainability advocates on and off campus, particularly since had administrators not allowed the project to languish, the original appropriations would have been sufficient. However, costs for materials rose in the meantime, leading administrators to consider the project untenable under the University’s strained budget situation. But after six to twenty years, depending on different estimates, the project would have saved the university money, which can’t be said for continuing to rely entirely on coal.

The six to twenty year payback isn’t the same as the immediate return locals get for leasing their property—$4500 per turbine—but is nonetheless a financial incentive. Installing the turbines would also have given the University the distinction of having the largest wind farm in use at any university in the country. But the University decided to play it safe and stick to coal, cheating itself out of status as an innovator, financial benefits in the future, and a cleaner campus environment. The University should realize that cancelling the wind turbine plan was a mistake for which it will pay.

It is heartening to see that how farmers in the Champaign area have embraced wind turbine technology. Creation of the wind turbines on the South Farms would have allowed the University to produce 3 percent of its energy needs entirely self-sufficiently. We commend the local community for having the courage to take part in renewable energy initiatives.

If only the University would follow their lead.