Why is an Indiana wind turbine 42 times more valuable than one in California?

July 19, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

Despite the abundance of desert sunshine, a solar panel in Arizona may have just a fraction of the value the same panel might have in New Jersey and a wind turbine in Indiana might be 42 times more valuable than the same turbine in California.

And wind and solar generation in West Virginia may be several times more valuable than the same renewable power sources in windier and sunnier states.

These calculations are the result of an extensive new study from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University that measured the combined health, environmental and climate benefits of wind and solar generation throughout the US and compared values in different parts of the country.

The study, which was published this week in the science journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, made some rather stunning discoveries, indicating that in order to achieve the greatest gains from renewable energy sources, officials should not focus on the locations that have the greatest potential for capacity.

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If the goal is to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and fine particulate matter, a wind turbine in West Virginia that could displace power that would otherwise come from a coal-burning power plant, may be far more valuable than a turbine in states with power portfolios already loaded with renewable and other low CO2 emitting sources.

“It is natural to think that the windiest or sunniest sites will yield the best performance,” the researchers wrote. “However, the reduction in emissions resulting from wind or solar depends not only on the energy produced but also on the conventional generators displaced, and that varies dramatically depending on location.”

The study, which monetized the social benefits of emissions reductions, found, for example, that a West Virginia wind turbine would avoid $230 in health and environmental damages per kilowatt-hour per year, roughly seven times more than a wind turbine in Oklahoma and 33 times more than a California turbine.

The study found that turbines in Indiana provide nearly $300/kWh in health and environmental benefits per year, the most of any state.

“A wind turbine in West Virginia displaces twice as much carbon dioxide and seven times as much health damage as the same turbine in California,” said Kyle Siler-Evans, one of the researchers who authored the study. “The benefits of solar plants are greatest in the cloudy East as opposed to the sunny Southwest.”

The study comes as the Obama administration has increased estimates of the social cost of carbon, which will used to help determine the costs and benefits of all major new federal regulations. The SCC, which measures the cost of a metric ton of greenhouse gas pollution, was recently raised to $33/ton from from $22/ton by the White House, stoking opposition from some in Congress, who argue that the change could dramatically increase energy costs as new regulations are developed.

“The SCC going up doesn’t cost anyone a penny,” Howard Shelanski, the administrator of the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, said during a recent House subcommittee hearing on the SCC. “It is an input into the rules and those rules will get evaluated on their costs and benefits. It is an absolute priority of the Obama administration to make sure that regulation reflects a commonsense balance between the needs to protect the health, safety and welfare of the American people and the American people yet to come.”

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