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Ikea builds wind farm in Illinois

Julie Wernau Chicago Tribune

These days, Ikea is assembling more than just furniture.

About 150 miles south of Chicago in Vermilion County, Ill., the home goods giant is building a wind farm large enough to ensure that its stores will never have to buy power again.

“It’s about taking care of the environment and living within our means,” said Rob Olson, chief financial officer of Ikea U.S.

With the project, its first wind investment in the U.S., Ikea is among a growing number of companies taking care of their energy needs by buying or investing in power produced by the wind and sun.

Microsoft announced late last year it would purchase power from a 55-turbine wind farm in Texas. At the same time, Facebook announced it would power its new Iowa data center using energy from a wind farm MidAmerican Energy is constructing in the state. In the past few years, Google has been ticking up its wind power purchases and investing in wind projects in Iowa, Oklahoma and Texas.

The American Wind Energy Association credits big box retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc. with starting the trend in 2008, when it made a substantial purchase of energy from a Duke Energy-owned wind farm in Texas.

“These are companies that often have corporate sustainability or carbon-reduction targets, and they’re putting their money where their mouth is,” said Emily Williams, senior policy analyst at the American Wind Energy Association.

Ikea’s Illinois project is expected to produce enough electricity to power the equivalent of 34,000 homes and is part of Ikea’s goal of offsetting its own electricity needs by 2020.

While 90 percent of Ikea’s stores host solar panels that directly flow power to those stores, the Illinois wind farm is too far from Ikea’s properties to power their energy needs directly.

“We haven’t figured out if it will say ‘Ikea’ on the blades,” Olson said. “Or maybe we’ll use the iconic names for our products on the wind turbines. We’re not sure.”

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