The study, which also estimates dollar values for many of these costs, focuses on potential externalities such as air pollution and human health effects which are not reflected in the market prices for energy and electricity production.
The report is titled "Hidden Costs of Energy: Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production and Use" and was requested by the U.S. Congress, who has an urgent energy and climate change bill on their plate. Policy makers are looking to not only learn more about new energy technologies, but also "what economists call external effects caused by various energy sources over their entire life cycle--for example, not only the pollution generated when gasoline is used to run a car but also the pollution created by extracting and refining oil and transporting fuel to gas stations." These externalities are not reflected in the market. One solution is government intervention (i.e. cap and trade program, carbon regulation, tax programs). The implementation of these programs will be debated heavily among Congress this Fall.
The study examines three key aspects of damage: 1) Damages from Electricity Generation, 2) Damages from Heating, and 3) Damages from Motor Vehicles and Fuels. "The damages the committee was able to quantify were an estimated $120 billion in the U.S. in 2005, a number that reflects primarily health damages from air pollution associated with electricity generation and motor vehicle transportation."
Not included in the estimates were damages from climate change, harmful impact to ecosystems, and risks to national security. So, combine these with the already estimated $120 billion in damage, and you have a pretty good reason to argue for the development of more energy efficient and renewable technologies in the U.S.
Regarding wind energy, the report finds that “potential damages associated with wind turbines are small compared to those associated with coal and natural gas as electricity sources.” In addition, the authors also argued that, “Societal damages associated with the killing of bats by wind turbines are currently small by comparison with the aggregate damages associated with electricity generation by coal, natural gas, and the sum of all other sources.”
The report also discusses the impact of energy production on land-use. Some wind energy critics often fail to recognize the advantages that wind technology brings to multi-land use. Indeed the report concludes that "Aggregate land-use effects considered over the entire life cycle are not significantly larger at present than those for other generation types, especially if one considers that in some cases former land uses can continue between wind turbines.”
All in all, the report points to more reasons for a growing wind energy sector, an industry that has continued to prosper despite economic hardships. According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), “Over 1,600 MW of new wind power capacity was brought online in the third quarter of 2009.” The AWEA also notes, "So far, in 2009 the industry has installed over 5,800 MW of new wind power, which is more than was added in the first three quarters of 2008."
For full copies of the 466-page publication, please visit the National Academies Press at: "Hidden Costs of Energy: Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production and Use".
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