PSR: Cost of Wind Power Far Lower Than Cost of Damaging Health Effects From Coal
February 17, 2012
Moving the U.S. off of polluting, carbon-heavy coal-fired
electricity will be much easier when clean, healthy renewable energy sources
are in place. To that end, Catherine
Thomasson MD, PSR’s new executive director, testified on February 14 in favor
of a bill to facilitate development of an off-shore wind farm off the Atlantic coast. Dr. Thomasson’s testimony to Maryland
legislators stressed the health costs that would be averted by shifting from
coal to clean offshore wind, including a large number of unnecessary premature
deaths every year.
Dr. Thomasson in her testimony compared the costs to the
public’s health from coal combustion against the generation costs of offshore
wind. Health costs from coal
contaminants far outweigh the additional costs of wind.
The National Academy of Sciences has quantified the
premature deaths related to three coal-generated contaminants: fine particulate matter (PM2.5), tiny
particles that lodge dep in the lung and can contribute to heart attacks,
respiratory disease and cancer; sulfur dioxide, which can cause permanent and
irreversible lung damage, and nitrogen oxides, which weakens the lungs,
decreases oxygen absorption, and contributes to the formation of ground-level
ozone, a pollutant that contributes to asthma and other chronic lung diseases.
Even looking at only those three pollutants, analysis shows
that the generation of 310 megawatts from offshore wind – the amount being
proposed for the Maryland wind farm – would save $100 million in public health,
thanks to the avoidance of premature deaths attributed to coal combustion.
Studies by the late Paul Epstein documented that a full
accounting of the health costs of coal (including the impacts of mining, water
pollution, heavy metal contamination and coal ash) shows much higher levels of
Dr. Thomasson was quoted by the press as saying, “Every …four-person household in Maryland is paying $73 a
month for public health costs from coal in Maryland.”
None of these studies quantify the potential economic
impacts of the public health effects of climate change.
Dr. Thomasson and Cindy Parker MD MPH of PSR’s Chesapeake
chapter also spoke at an open-air rally outside the Annapolis, MD statehouse,
where their presence was noted by legislators.