We often write about the economic benefits of wind power. But a new report released this week reveals that wind is not just a low-cost energy source that’s supporting over 100,000 American jobs – it’s also saving lives and billions of dollars in health costs.
In short, wind literally keeps Americans out of the hospital by cutting pollutants that trigger asthma attacks and other respiratory diseases.
Clean air, healthy lungs
The new report, authored by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) researchers and published in Nature Energy, shows that U.S. wind energy production from 2007 to 2015 generated up to $108 billion in air-quality and public health benefits, mainly by helping to avoid up to 12,200 premature deaths. Solar energy helped to avoid up to 500 more premature deaths during the same time period.
Power plant emissions – including sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and particulate matter (PM2.5) – cause and worsen respiratory and cardiovascular health problems to the point that they cause hospitalization or even death, as documented by the National Academy of Sciences and others.
However, the rapid growth of pollution-free wind power in recent years has helped to decrease emissions of these harmful pollutants. Wind power is now the country’s largest renewable energy capacity source, with enough installed to power 25 million average American homes every year.
During the nine-year period examined in the study, the Mid-Atlantic and Upper Midwest regions experienced the highest marginal benefits from wind energy generation, although all parts of the U.S. benefited.
The health benefits in the Mid-Atlantic region ranged from $100-$250/megawatt hour (MWh), four to 10 times greater than the value of the federal wind Production Tax Credit. Meanwhile, in the Upper Midwest the benefits ranged from $50-$120/MWh. On average nationwide, each MWh of wind energy (enough to power a typical home for a month) produced $51 in health benefits, more than twice the value of the Production Tax Credit.
Biggest, fastest, cheapest way to cut carbon pollution
The study also quantified the added economic savings from wind energy’s carbon pollution reductions: $28/MWh in its central estimate.
Researchers estimated avoided emissions between 2007and 2015 using the EPA’s Avoided Emissions and geneRation Tool (AVERT). That estimates avoided emissions from wind and solar energy generation by determining which U.S. power plants are most likely to decrease energy production and the resulting emissions. The new study confirms the results of previous analysis.
For example, AWEA calculated that last year American wind power generated $7.4 billion in public health benefits through avoided SO2 and NOX emissions, based on cost assumptions provided by the Harvard School of Public Health. Previous work by LBNL has also demonstrated that state pro-renewable energy policies provide benefits that are many times larger than their costs, in large part because of these health benefits.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind Vision helps us to envision the enormous health benefits we can continue realizing by growing wind power through 2050. As we look to the future, we can all breathe easier knowing that wind power helps to create healthier communities and cleaner air.