Create new, renewable electricity systems or continue expanding the current fossil fuel electricity infrastructure?
That is the question posed in a new report, Western Grid 2050: Contrasting Futures, Contrasting Fortunes, from an alliance of clean-energy industry groups and environmental organizations.
The report examines two different energy pathways in 11 Western states – business as usual or a clean electricity vision over the next several decades.
The "Business-As-Usual" (BAU) model assumes that we continue our dependence on our current infrastructure and grid operation to meet Western electricity needs with coal, nuclear and large hydro, with renewable technologies used only as mandated.
The "Clean Energy Vision" (CEV) assumes renewable energy options are pursued aggressively and the transition is made away from coal.
After analyzing both options, the report concludes that the West can successfully transition to clean energy, resulting in job growth and environmental and public health benefits for decades to come.
A key findings in the report was that CEV results in much less pollution and significantly reduced carbon dioxide emissions. CEV also reduces electricity-related water consumption by more than half by 2050, a savings of 289 to 343 billion gallons.
The report also found benefits to consumers' health – and their pocket books – by taking the CEV route. CEV cases can prevent premature death, heart attacks and disorders from mercury exposure. And by taking advantage of energy-saving opportunities, CEV means less reliance on fuel than BAU.
CEV will only cost consumers more in the unlikely case that natural gas prices and carbon prices stay low for the next 20 years, according to the report.
The report, released by Western Grid Group, was produced by Western Clean Energy Advocates, which identified itself as "a broad alliance of more than 25 renewable energy industry, environmental, tribal and public health organizations and regulatory experts."