Daily Dirt

EPA Head Visits Wyoming Wind Farm

The relatively nascent U.S. wind industry can help propel the country out of its economic doldrums and bring energy independence, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson said.

While touring Happy Jack Windpower, a new 30 MW windpower facility west of Cheyenne, WY, Jackson said wind energy will benefit Wyoming and the rest of the nation by creating jobs to build and maintain wind farms.

Happy Jack Windpower was developed by Duke Energy Generation Services. The fourteen Suzlon turbines operate at 2.1 MWs each. The project generated its first MW of electricity on July 17, 2008 with a commercial operations date of September 3, 2008 and sells 100 percent of its clean, renewable energy to Cheyenne Light Fuel & Power under a 20-year renewable energy purchase agreement. Happy Jack Windpower will generate approximately 100,000,000 kWhs of electricity per year — enough to power approximately 12,000 homes.

“In a thriving wind power industry, turbines like the ones here will be designed, manufactured, constructed and maintained by Americans,” she said. “For American workers that creates new jobs, especially manufacturing jobs in communities all across our country.”

At the invitation of Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal (D), Jackson began a two-day tour of the state’s energy industry at the wind farm. Today, Jackson will tour Wyoming coal and natural gas fields.

Illinois Senate Passes $29 Billion Public Works Program

On Wednesday, the Illinois Senate voted to legalize video poker, boost liquor taxes and allow lottery wagering over the Internet to fund a $30 billion statewide capital infrastructure program. The funding will be used for the repair of the state’s aging roads and bridges, making them safer while creating thousands of jobs to stabilize the state’s ailing economy.

“Many roads, bridges and other projects in the 22nd District have been in urgent need of renovation for years. By first ensuring the funding for this program, we can then move forward with a capital plan, putting people to work while shoring up our crumbling infrastructure,” Senator Michael Noland (D-Elgin) said. “With this program, we will be able to put thousands of people to work making our roads safer while putting good wages in the pockets of working people. These people will then be able to spend more money in our stores, pay off their mortgages and generally increase commerce everywhere.”

Illinois has not had a comprehensive capital improvement plan in a decade. Over the course of those ten years, many bridges and roads around the state have fallen into disrepair. By passing an infrastructure improvement program now, Illinois will be able to capture billions more in federal dollars to assist in fixing the continuing problem of its deteriorating transportation network.

In January, when Illinois Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) was first elected to lead the supermajority of Democrats, he pledged to establish and pass a major capital construction program. Over the course of the past several weeks, Cullerton has engaged Senate Republicans and leaders from the Illinois House to develop the plan passed Wednesday.

“For the past several years, the politics of personality has interfered with developing a jobs plan that a strong majority of legislators could support,” Cullerton said. “Today, with the help of Democrats and Republicans, the House and the Senate, I am confident we will finally move forward the spark needed for our state economy. It couldn’t have been done without the commitment to work together, in good faith. I commend each legislator and each legislative leader who has helped put more Illinoisans to work.”

The capital bill, (HB 312), includes 13 billion in state funding and $7 billion in matching federal funds. On the spending side, more than $15 billion will go for road projects and $3 billion for school construction. The plan also would finally pay $148 million in school construction money owed for years to two dozen school districts throughout Illinois, including $29.7 million for Chicago schools. Higher education, parks and museums also will get funds. Chicago-area mass transit would receive $1.8 billion out of the $2 billion set aside for local bus and train service statewide. The breakdown: $900 million for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), $810 million for Metra commuter rail and $90 million for Pace suburban bus.

When it came to where the money would be spent and authorizing the bonds to pay for it, senators voted 59-0. The toughest vote was on whether to increase taxes and fees and expand gambling. Even that measure passed 47-12.

But Illinoisans also would pay higher fees for license plates, which will cost $79 on July 1 and would rise again to $99 under the proposal. A driver’s license, now only $10, would cost $30 under the legislation. The plan relies most heavily on so-called sin taxes. A six-pack of beer, bottle of wine or fifth of scotch will all cost more.

The agreement would legalize video gambling to take advantage of the widespread under-the-table business that thrives in Illinois, authorizing up to five poker, blackjack or video slot machines per business and taxing the proceeds for an estimated $375 million a year.

The legislation also would open up the state to selling lotto tickets over the Internet, a proposition that would need approval from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Gambling opponents spoke out against both proposals before the executive committee approved the measures on 12-0 bipartisan votes.

Before becoming law, the proposal must be approved by the House and signed by Governor Pat Quinn (D), who has signaled his openness to the plan.

Cullerton predicted the package would pass the House swiftly, perhaps as soon as Thursday.

ROAD PROGRAM INVESTMENT:

  • More than $15 billion will be invested in roads (includes state bonds and local/federal matching funds)
  • More than $11.6 billion will be directed to the state’s Multiyear Road Program
  • $3 billion will be invested in new road projects
  • $500 million will be directed to new local transportation projects

EDUCATION INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENT:

  • Illinois will receive a 100% local/federal match for school construction and maintenance investment. House Bill 312 directs $1.6 billion t
    o school construction and maintenance, garnering another $1.6 billion from non-state investment
  • More than $1 billion will be directed to state universities
  • Community Colleges will gain $353 million

ENVIRONMENTAL/ENERGY/TECHNOLOGY INVESMENTS:

  • More than $1.9 billion will be invested in environmental, energy and technology projects. More than $1.2 billion of this commitment comes from local and federal dollars, or 65% of the overall investment
  • Illinois will invest more than $900 million in clean water and sewer programs through this bill. $110 million in state investment, garnering $796 in local and federal commitments
  • Parks, libraries and museums are slated to receive $500 million in the authorization

MASS TRANSPORTATION INVESTMENTS:

  • $4.66 billion will be directed to public transit programs. 90% of these funds will be spent on the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA), CTA and Metra
  • In sum, almost $6 billion will be invested in transportation investment throughout Illinois

STATE FACILITIES & ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT INVESTMENTS:

  • $750 million of investment is authorized for state facility improvements. These investment dollars will be directed to improve aging state buildings and public service facilities.
  • $50 million will be used for new investments in health care facilities.

Mimi Sitek

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