October 15, 2021
Ines Azevedo, Associate Professor of Energy Resources Engineering, Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment and the Precourt Institute for Energy
Electricity generation is a large contributor to PM2.5 air pollution. However, the demographic distribution of its resulting exposure is largely unknown. We estimate the health effects from air pollution from electricity generation in the US, for each of the seven Regional Transmission Organizations, for each US state, by income and by race. Exposures are higher for lower-income than for higher-income, but disparities are larger by race than by income. Geographically, we observe large differences between where electricity is generated and where people experience the resulting air pollution health consequences: for 36 US states, most of the health impacts are attributable to emissions in other states. Then, we discuss the issue of improved air quality and human health, which are often discussed as “co-benefits” of mitigating climate change, yet they are rarely considered when designing or implementing climate policies. We have developed and implemented a model that optimizes emissions reductions costs from the U.S. power sector for climate and health benefits under retirements and new plant construction decisions. We determine the best locations for replacing power plants with new wind, solar, or natural gas to meet a CO2 reduction target in the United States. We employ a capacity expansion model with integrated assessment of climate and health damages, comparing portfolios optimized for benefits to climate alone or both health and climate. The model estimates county-level health damages and accounts for uncertainty by using a range of air quality models (AP3, EASIUR, and InMAP) and concentration−response functions (American Cancer Society and Harvard Six Cities). We find that reducing CO2 by 30% yields $21−68 billion in annual health benefits, with an additional $9−36 billion possible when co-optimizing for climate and health benefits. Total health benefits equal or exceed climate benefits across a wide range of modeling assumptions. Our results demonstrate the value of considering health in climate policy design and the need for interstate cooperation to achieve additional health benefits equitably.