CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Residents in Ohio breathe air polluted by the region’s coal-fired power plants. Air pollution from power plants can lead to a number of adverse health effects, including lung cancer, stroke and heart attacks. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology previously estimated that Ohio topped the nation in the number of premature deaths attributed to power plant pollution in 2005, at over 4,000 annually.

Ohio legislators are currently deliberating the future of air quality in the state. House Bill 6 would repeal the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS) according to the version passed by the House. The RPS has supported the deployment of renewable technologies in Ohio since 2009. Repealing it would not only hamper a growing industry but also harm human health.

Recently, we evaluated the effects of Ohio’s RPS on air quality and human health at the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change. We estimated that, by protecting the health of Ohio residents, the RPS would generate an annual economic benefit to Ohio of $470 million in 2030, or $26 for each megawatt-hour of renewable energy.

We further calculated that by 2030 the RPS will avoid the premature death of 50 Ohio residents per year.

These benefits alone surpass both the RPS costs reported by electricity providers and our own estimates of the economy-wide cost of the RPS. By our calculations, the RPS will have a net benefit of $170 million in 2030 or $10 for each megawatt-hour of renewable energy supported by the policy. Importantly, these numbers do not account for a number of non-health-related benefits of renewable energy such as job creation and electricity price stability.

Future policy should recognize the human health impacts of different energy sources. To its credit, House Bill 6 does acknowledge the need to reward clean technologies for their emissions-free energy by subsidizing the state’s nuclear plants. As previous research at MIT concluded, preventing the premature retirement of existing nuclear plants is an important step toward a clean grid.

Sustaining nuclear plants and encouraging renewable energy deployment can go hand in hand. The value of clean energy has led other states such as Illinois and New York to adopt policies that reward both existing nuclear plants and renewables for the emissions-free energy they produce.

However, repealing (or, as Ohio senators have proposed, weakening) the RPS contradicts the goal of clean air. House Bill 6 also provides financial support to two existing coal plants and repeals requirements for energy efficiency. Neither of these actions would be good for public health in Ohio.

House Bill 6 is an opportunity for Ohio to carefully consider what type of energy future it wants to create. As our research shows, lawmakers’ decisions will affect not only individual power plants but also the health of the state’s residents. Ohio can reap the health benefits of renewable energy by preserving and strengthening the RPS.

 

Dimanchev is a senior research associate at the MIT Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research.