Renewable energy now the cheapest option for Americans, study finds


Factor in the social, health and environmental costs caused by coal-fired power plants in the U.S. and clean energy is the cheaper option, according to a study published in Springer’s Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences.

Based on official U.S. government estimates totting up the combined toll on health and the environment caused by the burning of fossil fuels, it is also cheaper to replace existing power plants with clean energy alternatives rather than keep the old plant running, added the study.

The journal further stated that America should not be reticent when it comes to replacing its coal-fired power with renewable power, stating that such a move would be cost-effective as well as environmentally friendly.

"Burning coal is a very costly way to make electricity," said Laurie Johnson, chief economist in the Climate and Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, and co-author of the study. "There are more efficient and sustainable ways to get power. "We can reduce health and climate change costs while reducing dangerous carbon pollution driving global warming."

Coal-fired power plants account for 40% of the U.S.’s carbon footprint. "And yet there are no federal limits on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants may release," continued Johnson. "That’s wrong. It doesn’t make sense. It’s putting our future at risk. We limit the amount of mercury, arsenic, soot and other harmful pollution from these plants. It’s time to cut this carbon pollution."

The Clean Air Act has been created to do just that, with President Obama pushing through the first federal limits on carbon pollution. While critics argue that such measures will in fact increase costs, the study says that electricity generation costs will actually fall in the wake of carbon limits.

Carbon, the study argues, creates a ripple-effect of unseen health and environmental damage. The White House Office of Management and Budget, together with the Department of Energy and eight other federal agencies has attempted to put a dollar value on carbon’s impact, creating an official figure called the "social cost of carbon", or SCC.

The administration calculates the SCC at $33 per ton of carbon pollution emitted. The study adds that every year sulfur dioxide causes thousands of premature deaths and chronic diseases, and adds an additional burden to an already overworked ecosystem.

"Already, climate change is contributing to record heat waves, floods, drought, wildfires and severe storms," said Johnson. "These damages are only likely to increase if nothing is done to reduce carbon pollution."

In 2012, extreme weather events caused $140 billion worth of damage throughout the U.S., with American taxpayers footing the bill for almost §100 billion, according to a report released by the NRDC in May.