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100% Renewable Power in Illinois? It's Possible by 2050

New Stanford University research shows Illinois could shift to 100 percent wind, water, and solar power by 2050. Credit: Iceman0/
New Stanford University research shows Illinois could shift to 100 percent wind, water, and solar power by 2050. Credit: Iceman0/
December 10, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – As the Paris climate talks are well into their second week, new research from Stanford University shows Illinois and other states could shift to 100 percent wind, water and solar power by 2050.

Stanford’s Solutions Project shows that, factoring in the health and climate-related costs of air pollution, the transition would save money and spark more employment.

Engineering professor Mark Jacobson says when all costs are included, wind is now the cheapest energy source in the U.S. – even without subsidies.

And he points out that could lead to faster economic growth.

"In this transition in the United States alone, across all 50 states, by transitioning we'd create 2 million more jobs – both construction and permanent operation jobs – than we would lose," he stresses.

The report says a full move to clean power would bring in about 192,000 of those jobs to Illinois.

Critics, however, argue switching to renewable energy would raise the price of electricity.

Jacobson counters that's only true if you ignore the negative health effects of air pollution.

Electricity generated by an older coal plant can sell for as little as 3 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to 4 to 7 cents for wind or solar.

But Jacobson says some of the most important costs of coal are hidden.

"We are all paying higher taxes, higher insurance rates, higher workmen's compensation rates, because of coal, oil and gas air pollution health problems,” he explains. “Asthma, cardiovascular disease, respiratory illness."

According to Jacobson, air pollution in Illinois causes up to $23 billion in associated health costs. He says fossil fuels only look cheap when some very real costs are ignored.

"The rest of us are paying that cost,” he maintains. “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 Illinois' transition to clean power in as little as three years.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - IL