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What are the health and climate benefits of offshore wind farms?

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Imagine an offshore wind farm that could power most of Washington D.C. and save 50 lives per year while generating $690 million per year in climate and health benefits.

This scenario could become a reality, according to our Program Leader of our Climate, Energy, and Health Program, Dr. Jonathan Buonocore.

In this video, Dr. Buonocore talks about the science behind "Health and Climate Benefits of Offshore Wind Facilities in the Mid-Atlantic United States," a paper he and colleagues from Synapse Energy Economics, University of Delaware, and Boston University published in Enviornmental Research Letters.

Transcript

Hi, I’m Dr. Jonathan Buonocore. I’m a Research Associate at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Center for Health and the Global Environment. I’m here to talk a little bit about our paper published recently in Environmental Research Letters called the “Health and climate benefits of offshore wind facilities in the Mid-Atlantic United States."

Climate change has been called one of the greatest public health threats of the 21st century, but it’s also considered possibly one of the greatest public health opportunities of the 21st century. One of the things I was really interested about in this research was trying to really put health into the discussion about climate change. A lot of electricity in the United States is generated from fossil fuels. These largely in the U.S. are coal and natural gas. All of these things contribute to air pollution, air pollution deteriorates air quality, and can lead to health effects ranging from respiratory disease, to stroke, to heart attacks, and ultimately death.

So what we did was use a series of models to estimate both the climate and the health benefits of building offshore wind in areas off the coast of New Jersey and off the coast of Maryland. If we were to build offshore wind, what emissions would they be averting? What would be the health benefits? And also, what would be the climate benefits?

We did this using the EPSTEIN model. And what that is, it’s a suite of three different models tied together. There’s first an electrical grid dispatch model, there’s this public health benefits model, and then also a climate benefits model. We first simulated a baseline case of what the electrical grid would behave like without these facilities in place. We then simulated how the electrical grid would behave if there were these additional facilities off the coast of New Jersey and Maryland.

We simulated a variety of different facility sizes in these two places. The smallest was a 200 MW facility off the coast of Maryland. The largest was a 3000 MW facility in New Jersey. The facility in Maryland, the 200 MW facility, generates about enough power to provide electricity for about 59,000 average U.S. homes. The largest facility, the 3000 MW facility in New Jersey, it provides enough power to power about 900,000 U.S. homes, which by the way, is about enough electricity to power most of Washington, D.C.

When we put these benefits to both climate and health into monetary terms, we get benefits of about $54 to $120 per MWh. And the largest facility that was simulated generated benefits of about $690 million over the course of a year. So that is a combination of both the climate benefits from offsetting carbon emissions, and also the health benefits due to it displacing air pollutant emissions. The health benefits from that facility was about 55 lives saved a year. Over the course of, say, a 30-year life of a wind farm, that would be about 1,650 lives saved from that one facility.

The day-to-day experience of electricity as we consume it isn’t going to change. You can still watch TV, you can still make toast in the morning—but the difference is, because you’re getting your electricity from these cleaner sources, the air quality is a little cleaner, you’re a little healthier, and you’re also emitting less carbon, and these benefits are occurring basically immediately, and they’re occurring in the regions that are building these facilities.

When we build renewable energy, in this case offshore wind, we’re improving air quality, and improving health.

William H. McDaniel, MD

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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