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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 social benefits. 

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. 

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