(TNS) — To achieve the most climate and health benefits nationally, more renewable sources of energy should be installed in the Great Lakes and Mid-Atlantic regions, including Ohio, according to a Harvard study released today.
To achieve the biggest improvements in public health, more solar power should be installed, according to the study.
"You get a lot more benefits if you're displacing coal than you do from displacing gas because coal has much higher carbon dioxide emissions and much higher emissions for all the different air pollutants that lead to health impacts," said Jonathan Buonocore, a research associate at the Center for Climate, Health and Global Environment at Harvard University's T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
For example, if a solar panel array is installed in California, it would likely displace gas as a source of energy. In places like Ohio, where coal is still used, installing a solar array would immediately cut down on carbon dioxide emissions which leads to greenhouse gas emissions that are contributing to warming temperatures and more rain across the globe.
To reduce the effects of the crisis, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is a United Nations group of experts on climate change, issued an urgent recommendation to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 45% by 2030.
The emissions from coal-fired power plants are also the source of air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, which lead to breathing problems and can cause premature death in vulnerable populations. Coal proponents argue there is technology, such as scrubbers, to prevent the most-harmful emissions and tout it as a reliable source of energy.
"There's still not as much discussion as there should be about the fact that deploying renewables does have health benefits," Buonocore said.
Cutting back emissions at coal-fired power plants would also benefit the health of people living downwind, researchers said.
"It's hard to even test that proposition because we have so many roadblocks here from a state and regional perspective. We need to be developing clean energy and renewables if we're to tackle the climate crisis," said Neil Waggoner, the Ohio Beyond Coal campaign representative for the Sierra Club.
Ohio is the third-largest coal-consuming state in the country, with nearly 90% of the coal being used for electric power generation, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
There could be some obstacles to changing that.
For those who install solar, there is a federal tax credit to give customers 30% back through the end of the year. Then the credit drops to 26% next year and 22% in 2021. In Ohio, there are no state tax credits to help property owners offset the installation costs.
A couple weeks ago, the Ohio Power Siting Board, which signs off on any major new source of electricity in the state before construction starts, voted to defer consideration of the certificate for Nestlewood Solar Farm, an 80-megawatt solar project in southwestern Ohio. It's unclear if it will be given approval to move forward.
Siting Board chairman Sam Randazzo, appointed by Gov. Mike DeWine, spent more than 40 years as a private attorney representing utilities. Environmental groups fear Randazzo will slow down renewable projects — such as wind and solar — that would help offset the state's carbon footprint.
"We see the renewable energy industry wants to invest in Ohio ... We don't have clear path to really making that transition that we have to undertake right now," Waggoner said.
Despite policies in Ohio that aren't friendly toward renewables, Buonocore said, the research can "help state and national policymakers design better climate plans by understanding where to build wind and solar, while also helping private groups, like utilities, renewable energy developers, and even investors, decide where to deploy their resources to maximize the gains from renewable energy."
But Waggoner said "that's not what's happening. Instead we're getting a policy of bailouts and gutting our clean energy policy.
"We're going to be left behind as we see other states investing in clean energy. ... It's going to be harder for us to comply with any future regulations from the federal government that seek to lower carbon emissions."
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