Investing in Renewables in the Midwest Yields Big Returns

Solar panels of the Minneapolis Convention Center. Image: NRDC


A new study from Harvard has found that the locations where renewable energy sources are built in the U.S. matter as much as, if not more than, the type of renewable energy that’s built there. As Reuters reported, “installing wind turbines and solar panels in the U.S. Midwest instead of other parts of the country would deliver the biggest cuts in climate-warming emissions and improvements in public health.”

  • The study’s lead author, Jonathan Buonocore explained that “If you’re interested in maximizing health benefits and maximizing planet benefits, you should build [renewable energy] in the Great Lakes or in the upper Midwest.”

According to the Study: Researchers assessed the benefits of wind, utility-scale solar photovoltaics (PV), and rooftop solar PV in 10 regions throughout the US and what they would mean for the amount of carbon dioxide emissions avoided as well as their health benefits such as reductions in premature deaths from air pollution, reduced climate change impacts to health from drought, extreme weather, displacement, sea-level rise, farming problems and diseases. Environmental Health News explained their analysis of the upper midwest yielded surprising results:

  • The Upper Midwest—which, in this study, spans roughly from the Dakotas to the Western Upper Peninsula in Michigan down to Missouri — would reap an estimated $2.2 trillion in climate change mitigation and health gains from adding about 3,000 megawatts of wind power, which translates to about $113 in benefits per megawatt hour.

Why This Matters: The location of new renewables projects matters because regions that are dependent on coal, like the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes regions, will reap outsize health benefits from cleaner energy sources than places that already have a grid partly powered by renewables like California. The Great Lakes especially suffer great consequences as a result of unregulated coal ash dumping which threatens drinking water for millions of people. In fact, air pollution resulting from the Midwest’s dirty energy affects neighboring regions, who have sued the EPA to fight this externality.

Go Deeper: The good news is that there’s already a clean energy revolution underway in the Midwest.


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