As an asthma sufferer who’s been foolish enough to play basketball outside when there are poor air quality advisories in effect, today’s findings hit home: wind power created $7.3 billion in public health benefits last year. Much of this comes from reducing nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, air pollutants that trigger asthma attacks and other respiratory complications.
Wind-generated electricity displaced 176,000 metric tons of sulfur dioxide and 106,000 metric tons of nitrogen oxides in 2015. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say asthma is responsible for over 10 million doctor visits and nearly 2 million emergency room visits every year, so having less of these pollutants in our air eases both minds and bodies.
The American Lung Association says, “Unhealthy air is hazardous to our families and can even threaten life itself.”
Besides contributing to respiratory illnesses, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides also create smog, marring views of America’s landscapes and skylines.
More of wind’s clean air benefits are on the way. The Department of Energy says wind could supply 20 percent of the country’s electricity by 2030, and 35 percent by 2050. If these targets are hit, it could save an additional $108 billion in public health costs and prevent 22,000 premature deaths by 2050.
Wind power & carbon reductions
Wind energy also helps to reduce another air pollutant in a big way: carbon emissions. In 2015, wind cut 132 million metric tons of them, or the equivalent of 28.1 million cars. That’s the same amount as all power sector carbon emissions combined from the states of Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Colorado last year.
Wind is able to cut these emissions cost-effectively. It’s the biggest, fastest, cheapest way to comply with the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, the country’s first-ever rule designed to reduce carbon pollution.
And the Business Council for Sustainable Energy and Bloomberg New Energy Finance concluded that, partly because of wind’s growth, U.S. power sector carbon emissions are at their lowest level since 1995. At the same time, electricity rates across the country are 5.5 percent lower than they were in 2009, when far less renewable energy was online.
Moving forward, continuing to grow wind power would realize huge clean air savings. The Department of Energy says wind could save $400 billion in climate change damages through 2050.