Wind and solar plants do the most good where they can reduce pollution and carbon dioxide emissions, so the best place to build them might not be where you think.
New research shows it’s not the Southwest and California where plants should be built. Ohio, West Virginia, and western Pennsylvania are a much better bet, because wind and solar power in those locations replace electricity generated by coal plants.
“A wind turbine in West Virginia displaces twice as much carbon dioxide and seven times as much health damage as the same turbine in California,” says Kyle Siler-Evans, a researcher in the department of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University. “The benefits of solar plants are greatest in the cloudy East as opposed to the sunny Southwest.”
Federal subsidies for wind and power plants are the same across the country. But Ines Lima Azevedo, an assistant professor of engineering and public policy and executive director of the Center for Climate and Energy Decision Making, argues “that while there is of course some uncertainty about the magnitude of the health and environmental damages avoided, if we are going to justify the added cost of wind and solar on the basis of the health and climate benefits that they bring, it is time to think about a subsidy program that encourages operators to build plants in places where they will yield the most health and climate benefits.”
The power generated by wind and solar is highly variable and intermittent.
“There are significant costs associated with deploying and integrating wind and solar plants into the grid, so it would be best to do it in places where we can get the greatest health and climate benefits,” says Jay Apt, director of the Electricity Industry Center.
The research was supported by Center for Climate and Energy Decision Making, through a cooperative agreement between the National Science Foundation and Carnegie Mellon, and by the Carnegie Mellon Electricity Industry Center.