Midwest residents would pay less for electricity, have more job opportunities, and breathe healthier air if their state adopted stronger clean energy standards, according to a peer-reviewed report released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
The report, “A Bright Future for the Heartland: Powering the Midwest Economy with Clean Energy,” shows that Midwest states have tremendous potential to produce electricity from renewable resources, particularly wind, biomass (plant material such as corn stalks and switch grass), and solar and to cut utility bills by reducing energy use in homes and businesses.
Tapping the Midwest’s clean energy potential would drive billions of dollars in new business investment, create thousands of jobs, and save families and businesses billions through lower utility bills, while reducing the state’s dependence on coal and associated carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.
“Adopting stronger clean energy standards can help transform the region’s economy,” said Steven Frenkel, director of UCS’s Midwest office. “Generating more renewable energy will put people back to work manufacturing the components needed to power the clean energy economy, such as wind turbines and solar panels. At the same time, reducing energy use can help keep Midwest businesses competitive by cutting their energy costs.
The study analyzes the potential impact of a two-pronged clean energy strategy for Midwestern states developed in 2009 by the Midwestern Governors Association (MGA) to help revitalize the region’s economy. First, the MGA suggested Midwestern states require that 30 percent of each state’s electric supply come from renewable energy sources by 2030. Second, it called for states to deploy energy efficiency technologies to save 2 percent in annual power consumption by 2015, with an additional 2 percent savings each following year.
The study found that while Midwest states can benefit from enacting these policies individually, they will benefit even more by acting together. “It’s important that the region maintain momentum in making this transition because they could quickly lose ground to fast-growing clean energy economies in China, Germany and other countries,” added Frenkel.
“Few places in the world have the combination of a great renewable energy potential, a strong manufacturing base and the skilled workforce needed to realize that potential. And the Midwest is one of those places,” said Claudio Martinez, UCS energy analyst and report author.
The UCS study found that if the region embraced the MGA goals, it would:
- Save Midwest residents and businesses $42.8 billion on their electric and natural gas bills by 2030. The typical household would save $78 a year in gas and electricity costs from 2010 to 2030.
- Create 85,700 new jobs in Midwest states and result in almost $41 billion in new capital investments.
- Generate $1 billion in new income for Midwest farmers and landowners producing biomass as fuel for power plants or leasing their land for wind facilities. Also, new clean energy investments could raise an additional $3.5 billion in property tax revenue, which would help financially strapped communities fund schools and public services, including police and fire departments.
- Keep more dollars circulating in the region by substituting local, clean energy for coal. In 2008 alone, Midwest utilities spent nearly $7.5 billion to import coal from as far away as Wyoming, according to the 2010 UCS report, “Burning Coal, Burning Cash.”
- Reduce the threat to public health and the corresponding jump in health costs resulting from increased ground-level ozone pollution due to rising average temperatures. According to a June UCS study, “Climate Change and Your Health: Rising Temperatures, Worsening Ozone Pollution,” climate change-induced ozone increases could result in 2.8 million additional serious respiratory illnesses, 5,100 additional infants and seniors hospitalized with serious breathing problems, and 944,000 additional missed school days in the United States in 2020. Three Midwest states—Illinois, Ohio and Michigan—are among the 10 states most threatened by rising ground-level ozone levels caused by global warming.
- Lower greenhouse gas emissions from Midwest power plants by 130 metric tons annually by 2030—equivalent to the annual emissions from 30 typical new coal plants. The Midwest currently produces 27 percent of the country’s heat-trapping emissions, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), and Ohio ranks fourth among all states in total CO2 emissions.