ShareThis Page

CMU study: Alternative energy should thrive in Pa.

| Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, 8:46 p.m.
Wind turbines work to produce energy on Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, at the Somerset Wind Farm near Somerset.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Wind turbines work to produce energy on Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, at the Somerset Wind Farm near Somerset. Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review

Solar panels under Pittsburgh's often-cloudy skies can offer more overall benefits than they would under the blazing sun of Arizona, and a wind farm in West Virginia can deliver more health benefits than turbines on the gusty Great Plains do.

That's according to a Carnegie Mellon University study, which concluded 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, but places where the highest number of people would benefit by offsetting the most pollutants.

“In many places in California or Arizona, the same solar panel will generate much more electricity than in Pennsylvania, given that the solar resource is much better at those locations. However, one of the goals of renewables is also to avoid emissions of air pollutants and their consequences,” said Ines Lima Azevedo, an assistant professor at CMU's Center for Climate and Energy Decision Making.

“What makes solar benefits in Pittsburgh larger than in other locations is that we would be mostly displacing electricity generated by coal, which has a large amount of air pollutant emissions — and associated health and environmental consequences.”

The study, published in the science journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year, put a price tag on the social benefits of emission reductions and found, for example, that a wind turbine in West Virginia would avoid $230 in health and environmental damages per kilowatt-hour per year, displacing twice as much carbon dioxide and seven times as much health damage as the same turbine in California. Solar and wind energy sources emit less carbon dioxide and air pollution than burning fossil fuels for electricity.

“If the main goal of renewables is to decrease the health, environmental and climate-change problems associated with fossil-fueled electricity generation, it indeed makes sense to increase renewables and other sustainable strategies and energy efficiency in Pittsburgh — and more broadly in Pennsylvania,” Azevedo said.

The researchers suggested that Congress take regional variations into account when structuring tax benefits for clean energy. They argued that the incentives should be available at least until costs are competitive with conventional energy generation.

“The level of these incentives should be set at least at the level that corresponds to the environmental and health consequences that they avoid when compared to the alternatives,” Azevedo said.

In Pennsylvania, more than two dozen energy companies have built 717 wind turbines since 2000, including 256 in 2012 alone, and installed numerous solar panels, according to PennFuture, an environmental advocacy group. Investment in renewable energy jumped in 2004 when lawmakers passed the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act, requiring a percentage of the state's energy production to come from alternative sources.

Evan Enders, a project coordinator for PennFuture's Energy Center, said the CMU study was “very eye-opening,” but investors' interest in Pennsylvania has waned since nearby states began requiring alternative energy sources.

“If lawmakers are serious about the overall energy mix and reducing carbon emissions, then they should focus money in Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, southern Ohio and regions where that investment is going to offset pollution,” he said.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me