Introducing environmental justice dimensions into grid planning models via air pollution modeling to develop equitable decarbonization pathways




Alverson, Sarah Katherine

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Grid planning models are key tools for strategizing pathways to decarbonize energy systems. Historically, these capacity expansion models have focused on optimizing for least-cost solutions subject to operational constraints and CO₂ emission reduction targets, excluding non-technical factors, such as social and health implications. There are many benefits outside of CO₂ reduction to consider as plants are retired such as the impact on nearby human health due to co-emitted pollutants such as NOₓ and SO₂. Recent efforts have expanded models’ capabilities to account for equity dimensions and considering the emissions produced by power plants. However, these modeling approaches have not used a more detailed emission dispersion model and made assumptions such as only defining impact across a predefined distance radius. This body of research addresses some of these gaps in the literature by using an open-source capacity expansion model to first evaluate generation plants portfolios into the future in the Western Interconnection (WECC) in the US, and then to model the proposed plants using a simplified air pollution modeling software to reveal which zip codes are most impacted by proposed natural gas power plants. California’s environmental justice index, CalEnviroScreen is then used to analyze the environmental justice implications of the generation plants portfolio. The plants most impacting environmental justice are recommended to be constrained in the deployment of least-cost solutions. The results aim to provide informed recommendations on how to lessen the impacts on environmentally burdened populations and plan for an equitable decarbonized grid by 2045 in California.


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