Renewables could be a health boon for Great Lakes, Upper Midwest regions
The Tatanka Wind Farm on the border in both North and South Dakota. (Credit: USFWS)

Renewables could be a health boon for Great Lakes, Upper Midwest regions

Harvard analysis pinpoints where renewables would have the most bang for their buck

Installing more wind turbines in the Upper Midwest, and more solar panels in the Great Lakes and Mid-Atlantic regions, would bring the largest health gains and benefits from U.S. renewable energy, according to a new Harvard University analysis.


The Upper Midwest—which, in this study, spans roughly from the Dakotas to the Western Upper Peninsula in Michigan down to Missouri — would reap an estimated $2.2 trillion in health and social gains from adding about 3,000 megawatts of wind power, which translates to about $113 in benefits per megawatt hour. Deploying the same amount of solar capacity in the Great Lakes/Mid-Atlantic region—spanning from Indiana to Northern Michigan then east to New York—brought about the same amount of health benefits.

"To ensure that climate policies are cost-effective, the location where renewables are built is much more important than the specific technology," said Drew Michanowicz, a study author and a research fellow at the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a statement.

"If you want to get the biggest bang for your buck in terms of the health and climate benefits of renewables, investing in the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes regions will keep populations downwind healthier while also taking important steps to decarbonize," he added.

Credit: "Climate and Health Benefits of Increasing Renewable Energy Deployment in the United States"

The researchers examined 10 regions in the U.S. and calculated what varying amounts of renewable energy added would mean for the amount of carbon dioxide emissions avoided, and for health benefits, including reductions in premature deaths from air pollution, as well as reduced climate change impacts to health from drought, extreme weather, displacement, sea level rise, farming problems and diseases.

The major take-homes from the study: when health benefits are considered, renewable energy is more cost effective than installing emissions reduction technology (such as carbon capture) at exiting coal and gas plants; and, just like real estate, when it comes to clean energy — it's all about location, location, location.

Location matters because in areas that currently use a lot of coal, such as the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes regions, renewable energy will create a lot more health benefits than in places using more natural gas and that have more renewables already on the grid.

In the modelling, "the highest amounts of coal were displaced in the Great Lakes, Upper Midwest, Lower Midwest and Rocky Mountains," the authors wrote. "These regions also generally tended to have higher climate and health benefits."

For example, they found that the health benefits for added renewable capacity for people in the Upper Midwest are about four times higher than in California.

The authors hope the study, and the modeling they use, can be used by policymakers, officials and energy companies to "maximize carbon dioxide reductions and health benefits" when deciding where to install renewable energy.

"This tool 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," said Jonathan Buonocore, the lead author and a research associate at the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, in a statement.

"By tackling the root causes of climate change, we can address our nation's most pressing health problems at the same time," he added.

See the full study at Environmental Research Letters.

LNG gulf coast
Leo Dyson, a retired commercial fisherman. (Credit: Courtney O'Banion for the Louisiana Bucket Brigade)

LNG production comes with a price, Gulf Coast communities warn

US takes the global lead on liquid natural gas production and export, as economic promises and environmental worries collide.

This 2-part series was co-produced by Environmental Health News and the journalism non-profit Economic Hardship Reporting Project. See part 2 here.Este ensayo también está disponible en español
Keep reading...Show less
Senator Whitehouse & climate change

Senator Whitehouse puts climate change on budget committee’s agenda

For more than a decade, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse gave daily warnings about the mounting threat of climate change. Now he has a powerful new perch.
Amid LNG’s Gulf Coast expansion, community hopes to stand in its way
Coast Guard inspects Cameron LNG Facility in preparation for first LNG export in 2019. (Credit: Coast Guard News)

Amid LNG’s Gulf Coast expansion, community hopes to stand in its way

This 2-part series was co-produced by Environmental Health News and the journalism non-profit Economic Hardship Reporting Project. See part 1 here.Este ensayo también está disponible en español
Keep reading...Show less
Plastics industry's recycling deception
Credit: MPCA Photos/Flickr

Plastics industry's recycling deception exposed

A new report uncovers decades of misleading claims by plastic producers about the viability of recycling, revealing it as a flawed solution for waste management.

Dharna Noor reports for The Guardian.

Keep reading...Show less
highway expansion climate concerns
Credit: Storm Crypt/Flickr

Rethinking highway expansion in the face of climate concerns

As the U.S. grapples with climate change, activists are challenging the traditional expansion of highways, highlighting the environmental and community impacts.

Shannon Osaka reports for The Washington Post.

Keep reading...Show less

Youth activists demand climate action at Biden's campaign headquarters

Young climate activists from the Sunrise Movement confront Biden's campaign team, demanding decisive climate action and a ceasefire in Gaza.

Keerti Gopal for Inside Climate News.

Keep reading...Show less
Plastics industry misinformation campaign
Credit: Louis Vest/Flickr

Plastics and education: a critical conversation unfolds in schools

Petrochemical conglomerates take to the classroom in a concerted effort to focus responsibility for plastic waste on the consumer while absolving industry.

Evan Halper reports for The Washington Post.

Keep reading...Show less

Rally for safer work conditions in Queensland

In Brisbane, thousands of construction workers demand improved safety measures following a colleague's tragic death.

Michael Rennie and Antonia O'Flaherty report for ABC News.

Keep reading...Show less
From our Newsroom
petrochemical shell pennsylvania plastic

Tracking petrochemical accidents across the US

A new database monitors fires, flares, spills and other accidents at petrochemical plants.

petrochemical houston gulf coast

Lives “devastated’ by petrochemical industry pollution in Texas: Report

New analysis illustrates the climate, environmental, and human rights tolls linked to petrochemical production surrounding the Houston Ship Channel region.

LNG gulf coast

La producción de gas natural licuado tiene un precio, advierten las comunidades la Costa del Golfo

Entre promesas económicas y preocupaciones ambientales, Estados Unidos lidera la producción y exportación de gas natural licuado.

Ante la expansión del GNL en la costa del Golfo, la comunidad espera erigirse como un muro de contención

Ante la expansión del GNL en la costa del Golfo, la comunidad espera erigirse como un muro de contención

“La gente no sabe qué haríamos sin el petróleo y el gas. Esto nos sale muy caro”.

extreme heat

Op-ed: We are undercounting heat-related deaths in the US

Knowing how many people die or get sick from heat-related causes is essential for the policy arguments to equitably adapt to and mitigate climate change.

environmental justice

LISTEN: Idalmis Vaquero on turning community priorities into policies

“I wanted to find a way to connect the things I was learning in my classroom with the things I was seeing in my community.”

Stay informed: sign up for The Daily Climate newsletter
Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers. Delivered to your inbox week days.