Environmental Economics in the News: New York WWS Energy Policy

Examining the Feasibility of Converting New York State’s All-Purpose Energy Infrastructure to One Using Wind, Water, and Sunlight
Mark Z. Jacobson, Robert W. Howarth, Mark A. Delucchi, Stan R. Scobie, Jannette M. Barth, Michael J. Dvorak, Megan Klevze, Hind Katkhuda, Brian Miranda, Navid A. Chowdhury, Rick Jones, Larson Plano, Anthony R. Ingraffea

A group of scientists and energy analysts has laid out a path under which New York State could, in theory, eliminate its use of fossil fuels and nuclear power — including for transportation — by 2050 with the use of renewable Wind, Water, Solar (WWS) energy.

In gauging the costs and benefits of various energy options, the authors include the costs from illness and death linked to pollution from fossil fuels.

Conversion to a WWS energy infrastructure will reduce air pollution mortality and morbidity, health costs associated with mortality and morbidity, and costs due to global warming. The premature mortality rate in the US due to cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and complications from asthma due to air pollution (e.g., ozone, PM2.5) has been calculated conservatively to be at least 50,000 to 100,000 per year (about 3% of all deaths by some accounts). Using an EPA estimate to value a statistical life at $7.7 million (2007 dollars), and scaling for New York's population as a percentage of the US, 4,000 (1,200 to 7,600) premature mortalities due to air pollution cost New York state roughly $31 ($9 to $59) billion per year.  EPA estimates that non-mortality-related costs add an additional ~7% of the mortality-related costs.

The estimated payback time to convert the state as a whole to WWS, is ~16 years from the mean air pollution cost savings alone.

One of the study's authors makes the following points regarding the economics of paying for this proposed policy:

  • Instead of upgrading, maintaining, and replacing deteriorating existing infrastructure, invest in new infrastructure. If we don’t appreciably accelerate retirement, there is no “extra” (early-retirement) cost to consider.
  • Retrofit and rebuild for maximum efficiency and minimum environmental impact. The correct basis for evaluating this economically is a full social lifetime cost-benefit analysis with a near-zero discount rate. On this basis, I believe that most improvements will be economical.

Read Andrew Revkin's take in the NY Times blog, Dot Earth.

Read the complete paper here.