Benefits to Air Quality and Health

PROBLEM: Pollution and Carbon Emissions

How we generate our electricity is a top contributor to pollution that is harmful to the environment and public health, as well carbon emissions that contribute to sea level rise and other impacts of climate change.

Air Pollution

Electricity powers our lives, but behind the scenes the way we generate that electricity is not all that clean. The combustion of fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas produce chemical byproducts that pollute the air and constitute a major environmental and public health hazard.

When fossil fuels are burned, it emits toxic substances such as mercury and air pollutants like smog-creating nitrogen oxides, acid rain-forming sulphur dioxide and particulate deposits. These pollutants can trigger cancer, heart disease, asthma and other respiratory diseases, can acidify terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, and corrode buildings.

In the United States, the highest levels of pollution are found in the Ohio River Valley and the East Coast region where these fossil fuels are burned and where our nation’s largest population centers will be impacted the most.

Carbon Emissions

The combustion of fossil fuels also emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas pollution that are directly correlated with climate change. The impacts of climate change we are witnessing include higher air and ocean temperatures, rising sea levels, changing seasons and an increase in the frequency and intensity of some extreme weather events like heat waves and heavy rainstorms.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the combustion of fossil fuels to generate electricity is the largest single source of carbon dioxide emissions in the nation, accounting for 37% of total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions and 30% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2014.

In the United States, the highest levels of carbon emissions are found in the Northeast region, near the high population density cities along the coast where the impacts of climate change will be the most severe. Our nation’s coastal states are particularly vulnverable to the effects of climate change from sea level rise to more extreme weather events, increasing our neeed to move to clean energy.

What’s the largest source of pollution and carbon emissions? How we generate our electricity.

In the PJM Interconnection power grid footprint that covers 13 states and the District of Columbia, our electricity comes primarily from fossil fuel resources.

In 2015, coal accounted for 36% of the fuel mix in PJM and natural gas accounted for 22%. Wind and solar only accounted for only 2% and .06% respectively.

It is during hours of peak demand, when electricity is needed the most, that we rely heavily on the most polluting fossil fuels.

SOLUTION: Offshore wind significantly reduces pollution and carbon emissions

Generating more of our electricity from the East Coast’s large-scale and abundant offshore wind resource will replace/displace many of the oldest and most polluting power plants, significantly reducing one of the top sources of air pollution and carbon emissions.

Abundant and peak-generating offshore wind can displace fossil fuel power plants that are the largest contributor to carbon emissions and air pollution.

In 2011, PJM teamed up with experts at GE to to conduct a robust study to understand the impact on the power grid from a large-scale build-out of renewable energy by 2026. Their study found that generating 20% of electricity from offshore wind, onshore wind and solar would displace more than 90,000 gigawatt-hours (57%) of natural gas generation and more than 34,000 gigawatt-hours (22%) of coal-fired generation. This means significant reductions in health and environment damaging pollution and in the greenhouse gasses causing global warming.

20% would require building 62 gigawatts of new renewable energy in the PJM region. We know this goal is attainable by 2026. To put it in perspective, today there is more than 70 gigawatts of land-based wind energy capacity up and running in the United States. And in Iowa, they generate more than 28% of their electricity from wind energy.

Offshore wind significantly reduces air pollution

The PJM report found that this 20% renewable energy scenario eliminate 33.7 million pounds of SOx emissions as well as 73 million pounds of NOx each year by displacing gas and coal

On a smaller scale, it has been estimated that by avoiding harmful emissions from fossil fuels, a 500 MW offshore wind farm will save 20-30 lives and $160 million in public health damages every year. Over a 25-year contract, the wind farm will save 700 lives and $4 billion in avoided health costs. [Source – old fact sheet, find source from CCAN]

Offshore wind significantly reduces carbon emissions

In their 20% renewable energy scenario, the PJM report concluded that by displacing electricity generated by coal and natural gas power plants, carbon dioxide emissions in the PJM region would be reduced by 14%.

On a smaller scale, it is estimated that by avoding harmful emissions from fossil fuels, a 500 MW offshore wind project will reduce emissions of the greenhouse gas CO2 by 945,000 tons per year. That is the equivalent of taking nearly 200,000 cars off the road.