Clean energy generates billions of dollars in health benefits, study finds

It turns out that not only does using clean energy benefit the planet, it also helps save billions of dollars in the places that invest in renewable sources of power such as solar and wind, according to a new study from MIT.

The Verge reports that several Midwestern states are already seeing dramatic economic savings by switching to clean energy sources:

“Ten states across the Midwest and Great Lakes region of the US could see $4.7 billion in health benefits in 2030 if they stick with current renewable energy standards, according to a new study from MIT. That’s about a 34 percent return on the $3.5 billion price tag associated with actually building out that infrastructure of renewable energy sources such as wind or solar farms.”

Emil Dimanchev, lead author and senior research associate at the MIT Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research, noted that the results could not possibly be more conclusive:

“This research shows that renewables pay for themselves through health benefits alone.”

Why such huge returns? For one thing, replacing dirty sources of energy with clean ones directly impacts air quality, and when the particulate material coming from power plants is reduced, respiratory and cardiac health improve dramatically.

The research from MIT focuses on 10 states that tend to have lower air quality because a higher percentage of their energy comes from burning coal. Those states — Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, West Virginia, New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware — generated 42 percent of their power from coal, compared with 30 percent for the rest of the United States. And that 42 percent figure was measured before the Trump administration began actively trying to revive the moribund American coal industry.

Switching to clean energy helps states save huge sums of public money on healthcare:

“As the pollution rates diminish, so should lung cancer, heart attacks, and strokes among people living there. That, the researchers say, could also reduce the medical bills and lost wages associated with those health effects, which leads to their estimated benefits of $4.7 billion in 2030 if current standards are adopted. This is something that medical researchers call a co-benefit of taking action against climate change.”

Leah Stokes, a political scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told Axios that the study makes a direct connection between economics and atmospheric conditions “that allows for a much richer understanding of how energy decisions affect public health,” adding:

“The targets that they are shooting for in this paper are not overly ambitious. They are showing that even doing these piecemeal things would be an improvement for the Rust Belt.”

The MIT report also predicts even greater if states go in the direction of carbon pricing, which is:

“A market-based climate strategy that in this case would entail capping the amount of companies industry can put out, and allowing them to trade carbon credits with each other. The caveat is that carbon pricing is more politically volatile compared to renewable portfolio standards.”

And other political battles will have to be fought at the local level, too, as Dimanchev found out when he presented his data on the floor of the Ohio state senate floor. At the time, the senate was deliberating whether or not to roll back its renewable portfolio standards to subsidize nuclear and coal energy:

“Throwing out the standards completely would lead to an average of 50 premature deaths per year starting in 2030. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine eventually signed a bill that didn’t gut the standards completely, but significantly walks them back. ‘The negative impacts on health will be significant and will not be very far off from the numbers we estimated for a full repeal,’ Dimanchev says.”

With public support and political will, we can and will eventually switch to renewable sources of power all over this country. The question now is whether or not that decision will be made before its too late to save the planet.


Featured Image Via Pixabay

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Andrew Bradford

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