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Study: Total Renewable Power Possible by 2050

A new analysis finds West Virginia could shift to 100 percent wind, water, and solar power by 2050. Credit: The Solutions Project
A new analysis finds West Virginia could shift to 100 percent wind, water, and solar power by 2050. Credit: The Solutions Project
November 30, 2015

CHARLESTON, W. Va. - All 50 states and 139 countries can shift to 100 percent wind, water, and solar power by 2050, according to a new analysis from Stanford University.

The research shows factoring in the health and climate-related costs of air pollution, the transition would save money and spark more employment.

Stanford engineering professor and director of the Stanford University Atmosphere/Energy Program Mark Jacobson says when all costs are included, wind is now the cheapest energy source in the U.S., even without subsidies, and solar is nearly as cheap.

Jacobson says that could mean faster economic growth.

"By transitioning, we'd create two million more jobs, both construction and permanent operation jobs, than we would lose," says Jacobson.

Critics of renewables argue they would raise the price of electricity. Jacobson says that's only true if you ignore the negative health impacts of air pollution.

Electricity generated by an older coal plant can sell for as little as three-cents per kilowatt-hour, in part because those facilities are paid for and have, until now, dodged some pollution rules. But Jacobson says power from a newer coal plant with updated pollution controls is closer to 11 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to four to seven cents for wind or solar.

Jacobson says some of the most important hidden costs of coal show up where the industry is the strongest.

"Since 1970, the United States has spent over $80 billion on the black-lung program," says Jacobson. "Coal miners themselves, they're suffering, and 500 die per year."

According to Jacobson, coal only looks cheap when some very real costs are ignored.

"The rest of us are paying that cost," he says. "So, while somebody's using coal electricity, someone else is getting a cardiovascular disease. Say you're having a heart attack, you're more likely to die of that heart attack when you're in polluted air than when you're in clean air."

According to the research, savings from reduced pollution could cover the cost of West Virginia's transition in as little as two years. Diplomats from around the world are in climate talks in Paris this week.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV