Environment Picture

MEC report: Michigan’s old coal plants costing residents $1.5 billion annually in health care

Replacement of 1950s-era plants with cleaner, cheaper options would save ratepayers a bundle
A Michigan Environmental Council report that drew more than 120 legislators and policymakers to a State Capitol briefing in late June shows the state’s oldest coal-fired electricity plants cost Michiganders $1.5 billion annually in health care expenses.

“Public Health Impacts of Old Coal-Fired Power Plants in Michigan” examines pollution from small particulate matter – the main component in soot.

The report found that the state’s oldest nine coal plants cost a family of four an average of over $500 per year in expenses and damages associated with increased hospital admissions, premature deaths and treatments for asthma, respiratory ailments, and cardiovascular problems, among others.

The costs are avoidable by replacing those plants with cleaner, cheaper options including energy efficiency and renewable power, said the report’s author, David L. MacIntosh, a principal scientist with Environmental Health & Engineering Inc. (EH&E). MacIntosh presented the findings to a packed room of state legislators, analysts and policymakers at the State Capitol on June 28.

The study, commissioned by MEC, also estimated national impacts of Michigan’s old coal power plants, finding that they are responsible for $5.4 billion in health care costs – mostly in the Great Lakes region where much of the pollution falls out.

Those plants began operation between 1949 and 1968 and are among the most polluting and least efficient in the state.

“Keeping these plants limping along is expensive – both in the cost of increasing electricity rates and in health insurance premiums, copays and other expenses related to the damage they do,” said Chris Kolb, president of the Michigan Environmental Council.

Now – with demand for electricity declining and the resurgence of energy efficiency programs and renewable energy options in Michigan – is the time to act, Kolb said.

“We can’t close all these plants at once. But we can – in cooperation with all stakeholders – develop a schedule to replace them with a mix of energy efficiency and renewable power,” said Kolb.

Both renewable energy and efficiency already meet electricity needs more cheaply than building a new coal plant, even before health care costs are accounted for, according to a Michigan Public Service Commission report (Report on Implementation of the P.A. 295 Renewable Energy Standard and the Cost Effectiveness of Energy Standards, February, 2011).

Replacing the coal plants with cleaner options could prevent some or all of the illness and death they cause in Michigan: 180 premature deaths, 233 hospital admissions or emergency room visits, 68,000 asthma exacerbations and 72,000 instances in which children were restricted from school or some other activity.

Nationally, the plants are responsible for 660 premature deaths, 250,000 asthma-related incidents and more than 800 hosptial visits for admissions annually, the study found.

The coal plants examined in the study included:
BC Cobb, Muskegon County;
Dan E. Karn and JC Weadock, Bay County;
Harbor Beach, Huron County;
JH Campbell, Ottawa County;
JR Whiting, Monroe County;
River Rouge, Wayne County;
St. Clair, St. Clair County; and
Trenton Channel in Wayne County.

You can download a copy of the report from our website.
-Hugh McDiarmid, Jr.
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