While the Clean Power Plan (CPP) works its way through the court system, researchers continue to look into what it could mean for consumers.
The results of a new Harvard study show there’s nothing to fear: using a model that resembles the CPP, researchers found net benefits of $38 billion a year. Because wind power’s costs have fallen 66 percent in the last six years, it’s the biggest, fastest, cheapest way to cut carbon pollution, making it responsible for a big portion of these benefits.
“Health benefits would outweigh the estimated costs of the carbon standard in our study for 13 out of 14 power sector regions within five years of implementation, even though we only looked at a subset of the total benefits,” said lead author Jonathan Buonocore, research associate and program leader at the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard’s public health school.
Carbon-cutting rules also necessarily reduce other air pollutants. In this scenario, the Harvard researchers analyzed benefits resulting from less sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, ozone and particulate emissions. These pollutants can cause smog, trigger asthma attacks and other respiratory complications, and harm the heart and lungs.
But the benefits to public health are likely even greater than the study’s findings, because it didn’t take into account direct health benefits due to climate change mitigation, such as fewer heat-related illnesses, reduction in extreme weather, and avoided increases in vector-borne diseases. Nor did it calculate other pollutants like mercury that can cause birth defects.
Americans across the country are already saving lots of money on public health costs because of wind power.
In 2015 alone, wind created $7.3 billion in public health benefits by reducing sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. Through 2050, that number could climb to $108 billion, and wind could help prevent 22,000 premature deaths.
Harvard’s study found that for the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and Southeast, benefits of complying with a carbon reduction rule could create $1.7 to $5.6 billion every year.
“The nice thing about this study, and others like it, is that it’s able to quantify air quality and health benefits that are immediate,” said Buonocore. “So it’s able to kind of put this information in terms of benefits that can be a lot more relevant to policy makers and other decision makers.”