The cost of electricity is measured in more than dollars and cents.
In the average year, pollution from power plants cost Massachusetts residents 78,000 lost work days, 441 premature births, 104 hospital emergency room visits and 8,800 asthma attacks.
Nantucket receives a majority of it's electricity from natural gas, which is not without its own hazards. Natural gas power plants are significant air pollution sources, releasing hazardous air pollutants, global warming pollution and fine particulate matter. Natural gas releases the greenhouse gas methane, which, ton for ton, traps 25 times more heat than carbon dioxide. Shale gas fracking blasting water, sand and chemicals into deep, underground rocks to release natural gas -- is a controversial means of drilling for gas. Critics claim it can contaminate groundwater, cause health problems for residents nearby and boost greenhouse gas emissions.
The cost from burning coal is even higher than most other fuels. Health and environmental costs bring the total price for coal-based energy to $0.055 to $0.083 kWh. In comparison the cost of producing electricity from wind energy has steadily declined by more than 80% since the early 1980s.
Extracting, transporting and refining oil creates significant environmental risks. Oil spills and ballast cleanouts in routine offloading operations endanger birds and marine life. And although rare, oil tanker spills—like the Exxon Valdez, which released 10.8 million gallons of oil—can foul our beaches and put wildlife at severe risk.
Currently, America relies heavily on foreign oil (6% of our electricity generated source), a reliance that has steadily increased since the early 1970s. At that time, only about a third of our petroleum came from outside the US. Today more than half of our oil needs are met from foreign sources, and if nothing changes, we will become even more dependent on foreign oil. It is estimated that by the end of the decade 75% of our oil could come from sources outside the US. Relying on a strategic resource controlled by foreign sources puts our country at risk to political pressures and interruption in supply. If we seek to offset this dependence by using new US sites, such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, we risk destroying irreplaceable ecosystems.
Nuclear plants generate waste including plutonium and radioactive cesium, strontium, iodine and krypton, which needs to be transported and stored safely. This waste will remain lethal for thousands of generations. If stolen, the plutonium can be used to make weapons. Because of the security risks associated with nuclear energy, generating plants and storage facilities require complex security.
Because there are no fuel costs associated with wind and wind turbines are relatively inexpensive to operate once they are built operate once they are built, when wind power could also displace coal or oil. Wind power produces no direct emissions of climate-warming greenhouse gases, unlike electricity from natural gas, coal, and oil. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (2009) estimates that 1,000 MW of wind power capacity can offset the emission of 2.6 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, which is equivalent to the emissions of over 460,000 passenger vehicles or a little more than half of the emissions of a typical coal plant.Wind stands out as the energy source that best balances environment, health and economics—it is a true alternative for cost-effective energy. Although siting new wind power can be challenging, wind is a renewable, emissions-free, local resource that can diversify Nantucket's electricity fuel supply and contribute most towards a sustainable energy future.