Why wind energy is not living up to its potential to prevent pollution

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Wind power isn’t cleaning up as much pollution as it could, especially in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods, new research shows. The rise of wind energy in the US has already led to billions of dollars in health benefits. But most of that hasn’t trickled down to communities historically burdened with the most air pollution, finds a study published today in the journal Scientific progress. Fortunately, that can change if new wind energy projects are deployed more strategically.

About the past two Over the decades, wind power has grown from less than half a percent of the U.S. electricity mix in 2002 to nearly 10 percent today. Increasingly by 2014 wind power had measurably improved air quality, resulting in health benefits across the U.S., according to the new study. But only 32 percent of those benefits low-income communities. And just 29 percent reached racial and ethnic minorities.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration has set a goal of ensuring that 40 percent of clean energy benefits reach “underserved communities that are marginalized, underserved and overburdened by pollution.”

Wind power doesn’t clean up as much pollution as it could, especially in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods

In this study, “health benefits” are actually a matter of life and death. They essentially put a dollar amount on deaths prevented by clearing the air. In this case, they estimate that wind power contributed $2 billion in health benefits in 2014, boosted by renewable electricity standards set by dozens of states. And while the US has improved air quality since the Clean Air Act of 1970, there is still much progress to be made. More than 137 million Americans, about 40 percent of the population, live in areas rated inadequate for air pollution by the American Lung Association.

In addition, the health risks associated with breathing in that dirty air are unevenly distributed. People of color are 3.6 times more likely to live in counties with multiple inadequate air pollution levels. Low-income communities in the US are also consistently exposed to more particulate matter pollution than more affluent neighborhoods.

The new study published today, which was funded in part by the Environmental Protection Agency, focuses on ground-level particulate matter and ozone from electricity generation in the U.S. between 2011 and 2017. During that time, new wind farms managed to address differences in air quality in some places. . But the growth of wind energy also led to even greater pollution differences in other places. This could be the case, for example, if investments in sustainable energy remain concentrated in places with more white, affluent residents and which already have relatively good air quality.

The research shows that to reap the greatest health benefits, wind farms must intentionally replace coal and gas plants. And to clean up the most polluted places — especially those with more colored residents and low-income households — those communities need to be kept in mind when implementing new renewable energy projects.

To reap the greatest health benefits, wind farms must intentionally replace coal and gas plants

“If we can tweak the system a little bit… let wind power displace some of the more polluting or noxious plants, that could actually lead to an even bigger air quality health gain,” said Minghao Qiu, a postdoctoral researcher. at Stanford who led this research while attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Qiu and his colleagues found that if planners prioritized replacing the most damaging fossil fuel power plants with wind farms, the $2 billion in health benefits from wind power would more than quadruple to $8.4 billion in 2014. But even more targeted action will be needed to ensure that those benefits reach the people who need them most.

It’s something to keep in mind as the Biden administration tries to meet its clean energy goals. “One message that really highlights our work is that, in a way, it takes a lot more effort to actually achieve those kinds of environmental justice goals set by the current government,” Qiu says. The edge.

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