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 wind energy boom in the US has already resulted in billions of dollars in health benefits. But the bulk of it hasn’t seeped into communities historically plagued with the greatest levels of air pollution, finds a study published today in the Journal scientific advances. Fortunately, that could change as new wind energy projects become more strategic.
In the last two For decades, wind power has grown from less than half a percent of the US power mix in 2002 to nearly 10 percent today. By 2014 there will be more and more According to the new study, wind power has measurably improved air quality, leading to health benefits across the United States. But only 32 percent of these benefits reach low-income communities. And only Racial and ethnic minorities reached 29 percent.
The Biden administration, meanwhile, has set a goal of ensuring that 40 percent of clean energy benefits “reach disadvantaged communities that are marginalized, underserved and overburdened by pollution.”
Wind power isn’t cleaning up as much pollution as it could, especially in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods
In this study, “health benefit” is indeed a matter of life and death. They are essentially betting a dollar amount on deaths prevented by cleaning the air. In this case, they estimated that wind energy contributed $2 billion in health benefits by 2014, spurred by renewable energy standards set by dozens of states. And while the US has improved its air quality since the Clean Air Act of 1970, there is still work to be done. More than 137 million Americans, about 40 percent of the population, live in places that have an unfavorable rating for air pollution from the American Lung Association.
In addition, the health risks associated with breathing this polluted air are unevenly distributed. People of color are 3.6 times more likely to live in counties with multiple levels of insufficient air pollution. Low-income communities in the US are also consistently exposed to higher levels of particulate matter pollution than more affluent neighborhoods.
The new study released today, funded in part by the Environmental Protection Agency, focuses on particulate matter and ground-level ozone from power generation in the United States between 2011 and 2017. During that period, new wind farms managed to minimize differences in air quality in some locations . But the expansion of wind power led to even greater pollution disparities in other places as well. That could be the case, for example, if renewable energy investments remain concentrated in places with more white, affluent residents and that already have relatively good air quality.
Research shows that wind farms must intentionally replace coal and gas-fired power plants to reap the greatest health benefits. And to clean up the most polluted places — especially those with more colored residents and low-income households — these communities need to be at the center of the rollout of new renewable energy projects.
To reap the greatest health benefits, wind farms must deliberately replace coal and gas-fired power plants
“If we can tweak the system a little bit…allowing wind power to crowd out some of the more polluting or noxious plants, it could actually lead to even greater air quality health benefits,” says Minghao Qiu, a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford who conducted this research during his studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Qiu and his colleagues found that the health benefits of wind energy would more than quadruple to $8.4 billion in 2014 if planners prioritized replacing the most damaging fossil-fuel power plants with wind farms. But more targeted action is needed to ensure these benefits reach the people who need them most.
This is something to keep in mind as the Biden administration tries to meet its clean energy goals. “One message that really makes our work stand out is that, in a sense, it takes a lot more effort to really achieve these kinds of environmental justice goals that are being set by the current administration,” says Qiu The edge.