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Yet another study finds that reducing carbon emissions saves Americans money

The kind of subtle, classy stock art you can't find anywhere else.
The kind of subtle, classy stock art you can't find anywhere else.

Conservatives insist that Obama's Clean Power Plan — indeed, any effort to reduce carbon emissions — will cost American consumers money and jobs.

It is impossible to know the future, so there's no way to say that this is definitively false, but at this point there's enough research and modeling to indicate that it's very, very unlikely. (This will not stop conservatives from saying it, and it won't stop the media from uncritically passing along these dire warnings.)

In fact, many studies show that an aggressive shift to clean energy and efficiency would save consumers money. For a general account of why that's true, see this new report from NextGen Climate. For a more focused bit of number crunching, however, we turn to this new brief from Synapse Energy Economics. It models a clean-energy pathway for the US and produces specific numbers showing both the carbon and financial savings.

Here's what Synapse calls the "Clean Energy Future" scenario:

Synapse’s Clean Energy Future scenario shows 70 percent of the nation’s electric needs being generated by renewables in 25 years. Renewables added by 2040 include 308 GW of utility‐scale solar panels, 253 GW of on‐shore wind, 197 GW of distributed solar panels, 18 GW of concentrated solar, 14 GW of geothermal, and 4 GW of off‐shore wind. Electricity sales are 25 percent lower than in a Reference—or business‐as‐usual—scenario in 2040, as a result of savings from energy efficiency measures and standards, as well as "demand response" programs that pay participating consumers to curtail their energy use at times of peak demand.

Synapse also assumes that 25 percent of the US vehicle fleet will shift to electricity and be hooked to the grid by 2040, which accounts for a rise in electricity demand that somewhat (but not completely) offsets the reductions created by efficiency.

This scenario is far more ambitious than anything mandated by the Clean Power Plan.

It is contrasted with a business-as-usual scenario in which investment remains dominated by natural gas plants and CO2 continues rising. Here's how the two scenarios compare in terms of energy sources through 2040:

(Synapse Energy Economics)

Here's a more detailed comparison:

(Synapse Energy Economics)

And here's how they stack up in terms of costs and emissions:

(Synapse Energy Economics)

On the top are overall electricity system costs, which drop slightly; on the bottom are CO2 emissions, which drop substantially (84 percent).

The financial impact on consumers varies widely by region — there will be net exporters and importers of renewable energy — but the results show a net savings for consumers in every region. (There will be variability within regions, of course, but the study didn't get into that kind of detail.)

Here's cost savings compared to CO2 emissions avoided for the clean scenario, by region:

(Synapse Energy Economics)

Long story short: An aggressive shift to clean energy and efficiency is likely to save American consumers money.

This is just the latest study to reach similar conclusions. Here are a few more, cited in the Synapse paper:

I'd also add DOE's Wind Vision report. Are there other reports to add here? Email me and I'll update the list.


A few more studies to add to the list:

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