Illinois Announces Funding of Renewable Energy, Agricultural Projects

Some time back I’d mentioned how renewable energy was already figuring in to the Iowa governor’s race, so when I saw this announcement from the Illinois Department of Agriculture, I immediately thought of it in the context of the gubernatorial race in that state. Honestly, I don’t know if incumbent governor Rod Blagojevich is touting his green credentials as a campaign move, but it is clear that Illinois’ government sees some forms of sustainable development as good economic moves.

Agriculture Director Chuck Hartke today announced more than $600,000 in grants to support renewable fuels, livestock production, the Illinois wine industry and other value-added agriculture projects across the state through Opportunity Returns, Governor Blagojevich’s pro-active, comprehensive economic development strategy. The grants will fund feasibility studies to expand Illinois’ ethanol, biodiesel and biomass industries, help open markets for Illinois products and find new uses for the state’s top commodities. The funds are made available through the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s AgriFIRST program.

Among the projects receiving funding:

AG TECH, $20,000 – to help the organization conduct a feasibility study that can address biomass energy savings for regional businesses. A larger reaching goal associated with the project is to leverage Northern Illinois University’s network of resources for the commercialization of biomass products and services.

DEVECO CORP., $52,000 – for purchase and installation of equipment to commercialize renewable based cleaning products. Located in Belvidere, the company’s new line of cleaning products utilizes ethanol and distillers dried grains (DDG) from corn and methyl soyate from soybeans. Commercialization of these new products will provide another market for area farmers’ crops. The company intends to purchase all renewable inputs (corn, soy, methyl soyate and DDG) from local farmers and ethanol facilities.

PRAIRIE ETHANOL, $20,000 – for equity drive costs related to the development of a 100 million gallon per year ethanol facility. Prairie Ethanol plans to construct a 100 million gallon per year ethanol facility in Galva, Illinois. The facility would utilize 36 million bushels of corn, create a new market for local producers, increase on farm income, increase the basis $0.05 – $0.10 per bushel, employ 50-55 individuals and spark local economic development.

McHENRY CO FARMERS’ MARKET, $17,240 – to help with funding a market manager and technical assistance materials to further develop their local farmers market. The objectives of this particular grant are for the farmers’ market to provide a venue for community-supported agriculture in McHenry County. This venture will help encourage local producers to grow and sell local through the market and foster new value-added business opportunities for the region’s farmers.

MEDA, $21,750 – to explore the potential for a large-scale vermiculture operation using organic waste materials. Grant funds are also to be used to evaluate the potential to sell the organic compost commercially. MEDA is a Chicago based non-profit organization located in the Pilsen neighborhood. This six-month project will evaluate the feasibility of creating a large-scale program to convert waste food and wood products to compost.

I’m particularly impressed by the scope of projects here — not just ethanol (which is very popular here in the Midwest), but also community-supported agriculture, vermicomposting and green products. Illinois clearly “gets it” that broad sustainable development can produce economic benefits. Perhaps it will produce political benefits, too, and I’m OK with that…

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