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Alternative energy companies grow jobs, presence in Chicago area

Workers for Loop Geo geothermal startup MadisConstructiwork
Tuesday new wellness center for Lawndale Christian Services 3748 W. Ogden. The center will

Workers for Loop Geo, a geothermal startup, and Madison Construction work Tuesday on a new wellness center for Lawndale Christian Services at 3748 W. Ogden. The center will use one-third the energy of a conventional HVAC system. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 20, 2011 4:36PM

Indie Energy, a six-year-old geothermal company based in Evanston, is counting on its technology and steady growth to double its 32-member workforce in the next year-and-a-half.

Half of the company’s employees are union operating engineers, while the other half comprise engineering and management employees.

PV Power, a solar-energy startup in the Ravenswood neighborhood, intends to expand its nine-person work force as it introduces software to help solar-panel installers design their systems more efficiently. Employees make a starting salary of $35,000 yearly.

Loop Geo, an Orland Park geothermal startup, employs 10 unionized operating engineers to install 650-foot-deep geothermal wells. The company is also installing geothermal systems that cut upfront costs by integrating geothermal energy into building foundations.

The three companies are among 158 in the Chicago region operating in the alternative-energy industry, encompassing wind (83), solar (60) and geothermal technologies (15), according to a report to be released today. Together, they employ 6,000, according to the report compiled by the Environmental Law and Policy Center, a Chicago-based not-for-profit that advocates economic growth and environmental health.

The city of Chicago is home to 86 alternative-energy companies — 49 wind, 36 solar and one geothermal — employing an estimated 2,500.

Statewide, the number of such companies stands at 316 — 152 wind, 97 solar and 89 geothermal — employing more than 18,000 people collectively. The number of wind-energy companies statewide jumped 46 percent from last year, when the report identified only wind-energy companies. The report, titled the “Clean Energy Supply Chain in Illinois,” is available at

“We see both old-line manufacturers such as S&C Electric in Chicago and Brad Foote Gearworks in Cicero and tech startups jump into the growing clean-energy market,” said center Executive Director Howard Learner. The Illinois Legislature and Illinois Commerce Commission helped the process by requiring greater utility purchases of clean-energy resources and easing the way for homeowners and businesses to install energy-saving systems, Learner said.

Growth also is technology driven. For example, Indie Energy has seen its sales jump five-fold — to $10 million last year from $2 million in its first full year of operation four years ago. It is seeking an equity round of financing in order to hire more sales and engineering staff to promote its technology that streamlines geothermal installation and monitors and manages the energy system in real time.

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