The True Cost of Electricity
The News Journal today published an op-ed I wrote on all of the costs of the electricity we buy:
Consider health costs in energy planning
Delmarva Power's Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), now being reviewed by the Public Service Commission (PSC), includes a projection of the economic benefits of using more renewable energy to generate electricity for Delaware -- and it's a big number.
The benefits of current plans to shift from coal to renewable energy are estimated to be $1.8 billion to $4.3 billion over the next 10 years.
That's roughly $2,000 to $4,750 in reduced health and mortality costs for every Delaware resident between now and the year 2020.
These benefits are attributed to Delaware's Renewable Portfolio Standard, the Energy Efficiency Resource Standard, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the planned Bluewater Wind offshore wind project, other renewable energy sources and a reduction in emissions from coal-burning power plants in and around Delaware.
Significant numbers of Delawareans will remain healthy and live longer over the next 10 years because power plants will be spewing less nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter into the air we breathe.
The Delaware Chapter of the Sierra Club has intervened in this docket to make the case for including the calculation of health benefits as an integral part of our energy planning.
Ken Kristl of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic at the Widener University School of Law is representing the Sierra Club.
Until now, the PSC has considered only the cost of our utility bills -- and not the cost of our medical bills -- when reviewing plans to meet our energy needs.
This innovation in energy planning was prompted by Gov. Jack Markell, who two years ago called for a "level playing field for clean energy" by including all of the costs and benefits in PSC proceedings.
These new figures give us a clearer picture of what a level playing field would look like.
The IRP's projected health benefits of renewable energy come to 12 percent to 30 percent of Delaware's retail electricity sales.
In contrast, I calculate that the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and the Renewable Portfolio Standard together will add less than a percentage point to our electricity bills.
Bluewater Wind is projected to add about one half of 1 percent to our bills -- if fossil-fuel prices don't increase too much over the life of the project. When you compare such modest costs to the enormous benefits of cleaner air, renewable energy looks like a pretty good bargain.
But after all the number crunching, it's worth remembering that our energy policy is not just about economics; it's about fewer chest X-rays and cancer cases and longer and healthier lives.
For those seeking to roll back these clean-energy policies, I ask: How much of these benefits would you have us give back? How much more spending on lung disease and cancer should we be willing to tolerate?
Given the size of the benefits, why should we accept even a short-term delay in shifting from coal to renewable energy?
Three years ago, we rallied around the plan to build offshore wind power in Delaware. Now that we have a more complete picture of the economics, we should reaffirm our commitment to promoting renewable energy -- and to providing cleaner air for all of us to breathe.