Add Wind Power to Grid to Save Billions and Reduce Climate Chaos
Adding more wind power to the grid in the PJM region—Mid-Atlantic power pool consisting of 13 states and Washington, DC—can lower gas and coal consumption and reduce regional wholesale energy market prices, saving nearly $7 billion per year by the mid-2020s, according to a new study conducted by Synapse Energy Economics on behalf of Americans for a Clean Energy Grid (ACEG).
The report found that doubling the wind generation already planned in the region would lower fuel costs and drive down prices by $1.74 per megawatt hour (MWh) in the largest wholesale competitive energy market in the world. The savings also extend into the regions interconnected with PJM.
The study analyzed two scenarios relative to a baseline. In the first, additional wind power came from within the PJM region. In the second, some additional wind power is tapped within PJM, and some is imported from the windier Midwest region adjacent to PJM known as the Midwest ISO (MISO).
In both cases, the cost of the incremental transmission capacity necessary for doubling the amount of wind power on the grid is small compared with the net benefits that would be provided. Both showed net savings of close to $7 billion in 2026, resulting from the fact wind power replaces dirty and inefficient fossil fuel plants and drives down electricity prices. Once wind turbines are in place, the cost of generation is reduced and stable.
Consumers would reap net savings throughout the study period, which focused on 2021-2026. Achieving twice as much wind power on the region’s grid would require little additional investment beyond what is currently planned between now and 2020, as the region is already set to build new infrastructure and increase wind generation over the next 7 years. Between 2021 and 2026, savings begin to accrue immediately with roughly $1 billion saved in the first year, due to a nearly 2:1 ratio of savings to investment.
“Consumers save when more wind is installed on the grid because wind costs and performance have improved significantly over the last decade; displacing more expensive fossil-generated electricity is both an emissions and an economic winner,” said report author Bob Fagan, Synapse Energy Economics.
Environmental and Broader Economic Benefits
A significant boon for Mid-Atlantic consumers, adding more renewable energy to the grid would also reduce CO2 emissions by 14 percent; NOx emissions by 10 percent and SO2 emissions by six percent from the baseline. While not quantified in the Synapse study, tapping more wind power would create new jobs in the manufacturing and installation sectors that make up the renewable energy supply chain.
“This study also shows that large scale wind integration into the PJM grid will be a low cost approach of helping Mid-Atlantic States meet their renewable energy portfolio standards,” said Bruce Burcat, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Coalition and former executive director of the Delaware Public Service Commission.
“These standards are the policies of most of the states in the PJM region seeking to diversify their energy portfolios with clean energy resources and boost economic development by attracting substantial investment in new clean generating resources.”
The PJM study builds on the growing body of literature pointing to the fact that more renewable energy generation means savings for regional economies. Synapse authored a similar report last year looking at the impact of adding more wind to the grid in the MISO region, which includes much of the Midwest.
The case is clear: higher rates of wind generation means lower electricity bills. With environmental savings on top of massive benefits for ratepayers that have been demonstrated in multiple regions across the nation, creating a clean energy future also means creating a less expensive one—in terms of dollars and environmental costs.
“This report shows what we have seen in other markets – large scale wind penetration into wholesale markets lowers prices and improves system flexibility,” said Joseph Kelliher, executive vice president, Federal Regulatory Affairs for NextEra Energy, Inc. and a former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Synapse Study and the PJM Power Market
The study, The Net Benefit of Increased Wind Power in PJM, evaluated various generation and transmission build-outs in the PJM region. PJM is the largest wholesale electricity market in the world, comprising some or all of 13 states (Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia) and Washington, DC. The size and electricity consumption within the region further compounds the impact of the study.
The analysis indicates that the impact of introducing higher levels of wind onto the grid would cut fossil fuel consumption significantly and depress the average annual market price, relative to the baseline case of no additional wind generation beyond what is required by current renewable portfolio standards passed by states in PJM. The grid and wind build out that is expected as a result of these standards leads the study to show no difference in cost or savings in the high wind scenario through 2020—that is to say, in order to double wind power relative to the baseline by 2026, no additional investment in wind needs to be made until 2021.
Grid investments are already being made in the PJM region to accommodate retirements of fossil fuel generation facilities. This reality benefits projected higher wind scenario in two ways: first, it lessens the amount of transmission investment needed to accommodate more wind, and secondly it creates additional capacity on the grid for renewable energy.
“Transmission is a key piece of the scenarios studied in this report," said Jim Hoecker, counsel and advisor to WIRES and a former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. “Without even considering the multiple other benefits of strengthening the grid, the report makes a persuasive case that major increases in wind energy and the transmission needed to bring it to market is a highly economic proposition that regional planners should not ignore.”
As with most energy studies projecting results more than a decade out, the Synapse analysis assumes a price on carbon would be in place in 2026, in this case a conservative $30 per ton. However, the fundamental results of the study are not changed by this assumption: regional customers would still reap $2.6 billion in annual savings in 2026 even if no carbon policy is adopted between now and then. The savings remain because of the fossil fuel displacement and market price effects that low cost wind power brings to a competitive energy market.
Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.
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By Bob Jacobs
Hanako, a female Asian elephant, lived in a tiny concrete enclosure at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo for more than 60 years, often in chains, with no stimulation. In the wild, elephants live in herds, with close family ties. Hanako was solitary for the last decade of her life.
Hanako, an Asian elephant kept at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo; and Kiska, an orca that lives at Marineland Canada. One image depicts Kiska's damaged teeth. Elephants in Japan (left image), Ontario Captive Animal Watch (right image), CC BY-ND
Affecting Health and Altering Behavior<p>It is easy to observe the overall health and psychological consequences of life in captivity for these animals. Many captive elephants suffer from arthritis, obesity or skin problems. Both <a href="https://doi.org/10.11609/JoTT.o2620.1826-36" target="_blank">elephants</a> and orcas often have severe dental problems. Captive orcas are plagued by <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank">pneumonia, kidney disease, gastrointestinal illnesses and infections</a>.</p><p>Many animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.09.010" target="_blank">try to cope</a> with captivity by adopting abnormal behaviors. Some develop "<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2017.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stereotypies</a>," which are repetitive, purposeless habits such as constantly bobbing their heads, swaying incessantly or chewing on the bars of their cages. Others, especially big cats, pace their enclosures. Elephants rub or break their tusks.</p>
Changing Brain Structure<p>Neuroscientific research indicates that living in an impoverished, stressful captive environment <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">physically damages the brain</a>. These changes have been documented in many <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.903270108" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">species</a>, including rodents, rabbits, cats and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">humans</a>.</p><p>Although researchers have directly studied some animal brains, most of what we know comes from observing animal behavior, analyzing stress hormone levels in the blood and applying knowledge gained from a half-century of neuroscience research. Laboratory research also suggests that mammals in a zoo or aquarium have compromised brain function.</p>
This illustration shows differences in the brain's cerebral cortex in animals held in impoverished (captive) and enriched (natural) environments. Impoverishment results in thinning of the cortex, a decreased blood supply, less support for neurons and decreased connectivity among neurons. Arnold B. Scheibel, CC BY-ND<p>Subsisting in confined, barren quarters that lack intellectual stimulation or appropriate social contact seems to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1590/S0001-37652001000200006" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">thin the cerebral cortex</a> – the part of the brain involved in voluntary movement and higher cognitive function, including memory, planning and decision-making.</p><p>There are other consequences. Capillaries shrink, depriving the brain of the oxygen-rich blood it needs to survive. Neurons become smaller, and their dendrites – the branches that form connections with other neurons – become less complex, impairing communication within the brain. As a result, the cortical neurons in captive animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.901230110" target="_blank">process information less efficiently</a> than those living in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/dev.420020208" target="_blank">enriched, more natural environments</a>.</p>
An actual cortical neuron in a wild African elephant living in its natural habitat compared with a hypothesized cortical neuron from a captive elephant. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Brain health is also affected by living in small quarters that <a href="https://doi.org/10.3233/BPL-160040" target="_blank">don't allow for needed exercise</a>. Physical activity increases the flow of blood to the brain, which requires large amounts of oxygen. Exercise increases the production of new connections and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aaw2622" target="_blank">enhances cognitive abilities</a>.</p><p>In their native habits these animals must move to survive, covering great distances to forage or find a mate. Elephants typically travel anywhere from <a href="https://www.elephantsforafrica.org/elephant-facts/#:%7E:text=How%20far%20do%20elephants%20walk,km%20on%20a%20daily%20basis." target="_blank">15 to 120 miles per day</a>. In a zoo, they average <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0150331" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">three miles daily</a>, often walking back and forth in small enclosures. One free orca studied in Canada swam <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-010-0958-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">up to 156 miles a day</a>; meanwhile, an average orca tank is about 10,000 times smaller than its <a href="https://www.cascadiaresearch.org/projects/killer-whales/using-dtags-study-acoustics-and-behavior-southern" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">natural home range</a>.</p>
Disrupting Brain Chemistry and Killing Cells<p>Living in enclosures that restrict or prevent normal behavior creates chronic frustration and boredom. In the wild, an animal's stress-response system helps it escape from danger. But captivity traps animals with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1215502109" target="_blank">almost no control</a> over their environment.</p><p>These situations foster <a href="https://doi.org/10.1037/rev0000033" target="_blank">learned helplessness</a>, negatively impacting the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/6391686" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">hippocampus</a>, which handles memory functions, and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2011.02.024" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">amygdala</a>, which processes emotions. Prolonged stress <a href="https://doi.org/10.3109/10253899609001092" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elevates stress hormones</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.10-09-02897.1990" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">damages or even kills neurons</a> in both brain regions. It also disrupts the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2005.03.021" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">delicate balance of serotonin</a>, a neurotransmitter that stabilizes mood, among other functions.</p><p>In humans, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">deprivation</a> can trigger <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">psychiatric issues</a>, including depression, anxiety, <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mood disorders</a> or <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1073858409333072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">post-traumatic stress disorder</a>. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-010-0288-3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Elephants</a>, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0050139" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">orcas</a> and other animals with large brains are likely to react in similar ways to life in a severely stressful environment.</p>
Damaged Wiring<p>Captivity can damage the brain's complex circuitry, including the basal ganglia. This group of neurons communicates with the cerebral cortex along two networks: a direct pathway that enhances movement and behavior, and an indirect pathway that inhibits them.</p><p>The repetitive, <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2014.05.057" target="_blank">stereotypic behaviors</a> that many animals adopt in captivity are caused by an imbalance of two neurotransmitters, dopamine and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2010.02.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">serotonin</a>. This impairs the indirect pathway's ability to modulate movement, a condition documented in species from chickens, cows, sheep and horses to primates and big cats.</p>
The cerebral cortex, hippocampus and amygdala are physically altered by captivity, along with brain circuitry that involves the basal ganglia. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Evolution has constructed animal brains to be exquisitely responsive to their environment. Those reactions can affect neural function by <a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/311787/behave-by-robert-m-sapolsky/" target="_blank">turning different genes on or off</a>. Living in inappropriate or abusive circumstance alters biochemical processes: It disrupts the synthesis of proteins that build connections between brain cells and the neurotransmitters that facilitate communication among them.</p><p>There is strong evidence that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0577-11.2011" target="_blank">enrichment</a>, social contact and appropriate space in more natural habitats are <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-1090.2003.tb02071.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">necessary</a> for long-lived animals with large brains such as <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0152490" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elephants</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/13880292.2017.1309858" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cetaceans</a>. Better conditions <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5543669/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reduce disturbing sterotypical behaviors</a>, improve connections in the brain, and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/cdd.2009.193" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">trigger neurochemical changes</a> that enhance learning and memory.</p>