Wind power doesn’t clean up as much pollution as it could, especially in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods, new research shows. The wind energy boom in the United States has already generated billions of dollars in health benefits. But the majority of that hasn’t trickled down to the communities that have historically been burdened with the most air pollution, according to a study published today in the journal Scientists progress. Fortunately, this could change if new wind energy projects are deployed more strategically.
During the last two decades, wind power has grown from less than half a percent of the US electricity mix in 2002 to nearly 10 percent today. By 2014, increasing amounts of According to the new study, wind power has measurably improved air quality, leading to health benefits across the United States. But only 32% of these benefits reaches low-income communities. And just 29% reached racial and ethnic minority populations.
The Biden administration, meanwhile, has set a goal of ensuring that 40% of clean energy benefits reach “disadvantaged 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 basically put a dollar amount on deaths that are prevented by cleaning the air. In this case, they estimated that in 2014, wind power contributed $2 billion in health benefits, boosted by renewable electricity standards set by dozens of states. And although the United States has improved air quality since the Clean Air Act of 1970, there is still a long way to go. More than 137 million Americans, or about 40% of the population, live in places that have received air pollution failing ratings from the American Lung Association.
In addition, the health risks associated with inhaling this polluted air are unevenly distributed. People of color are 3.6 times more likely to live in counties with multiple failing air pollution levels. Low-income communities in the United States have also been consistently exposed to more particulate pollution than more affluent neighborhoods.
The new study released today, which was partially funded by the Environmental Protection Agency, focuses on particulate and ground-level ozone from electricity generation in the United States between 2011 and 2017. During During this period, new wind farms succeeded in minimizing the disparities in air quality in certain places. But the growth of wind power has also led to even greater pollution disparities in other places. This could be the case, for example, if renewable energy investments remain concentrated in places with more white and affluent residents and which already have relatively good air quality.
Research shows that to reap the most health benefits, wind farms must intentionally replace coal and gas-fired power plants. And to clean up the most polluted places — especially those with the most residents of color and low-income households — these communities must be front and center when rolling out new renewable energy projects.
To get the most health benefits, wind farms must intentionally replace coal and gas plants
“If we can tweak the system a bit … let wind power displace some of the most polluting or damaging plants, it could actually lead to an even greater magnitude of air quality health benefits. “, says Minghao Qiu, a postdoctoral fellow. at Stanford who conducted this research while studying at 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, then the $2 billion in health benefits from wind power in 2014 would more than quadruple to $8.4 billion. But even more targeted measures will be needed to ensure these benefits reach the people who need them most.
That’s something to keep in mind as the Biden administration tries to meet its clean energy goals. “One message that our work really emphasizes is that it takes a lot more effort in some sense to really achieve these kinds of environmental justice goals set by the current administration,” Qiu said. The edge.
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