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High Electricity Prices Killed More Than 1,280 People in Japan After The Government Foolishly Shuttered All Nuclear Facilities Following Fukushima

High electricity prices are deadly.

That’s the conclusion reached by a new paper produced by the National Bureau Of Economic Research (NBER), which investigated the relationship between electricity prices and mortality after the Japanese government’s decision to shut down all of its nuclear power plants following the Fukushima meltdown in March of 2011.

According to NBER, shutting these plants down came at enormous costs, both economic and human. The paper reads:

“To meet electricity demands, the reduction in nuclear energy production was offset by increased importation of fossil fuels, which increased the price of electricity by as much as 38 percent in some regions.

These higher electricity prices led to a decrease in electricity consumption, particularly during times of the year with greater heating demand. Given the role that climate control plays in providing protection from extreme weather events, we find that the reduced electricity consumption caused an increase in mortality [emphasis added]. Our estimated increase in mortality from higher electricity prices significantly outweighs the mortality from the accident itself, suggesting the decision to cease nuclear production caused more harm than good.”

Unfortunately, liberal environmentalists almost always seem to think the solution to any given problem is to reduce energy consumption, but this is completely wrong. The solution is to use more more energy.

“Similar to previous research, we find that extreme temperatures affect mortality (e.g., Deschenes and Moretti 2009, Deschenes and Greenstone 2011, Barreca et al. 2016, Karlsson and Ziebarth 2018), in particular during very cold temperatures, though the effects from higher temperatures are small given high rates of air conditioning penetration, comparable to more recent estimates in the US. We then interact temperature with electricity prices to explore how electricity prices moderate the relationship between temperature and mortality. We find increased mortality effects from extreme cold weather, suggesting the decreased consumption of electricity that resulted from higher electricity prices increased mortality. Our findings are robust to a wide variety of specification tests.

Research clearly demonstrates that using energy to power air conditioners dramatically decreases the mortality impacts of high temperatures. When people can afford to use this energy, they are able to adapt in order to survive and thrive in new environments, but when they can’t afford to use more energy, mortality rates increase.

To put these estimates in context, we calculate that the higher electricity prices resulted in at least an additional 1,280 deaths during 2011-2014. Since our data only covers the 21 largest cities in Japan, which represents 28 percent of the total population, the total effects for the entire nation are even larger. Most sources of heating and cooling in Japan rely on energy from the grid except for Northern Japan.

The findings of this research has important implications for energy policy in Minnesota. Our award winning research, Doubling Down on Failurefound a 50 percent renewable energy mandate would force affordable, reliable coal plants offline and cause electricity prices to increase by 40 percent. Furthermore, we believe our findings were conservative because we did not incorporate the high cost of battery storage, and we assumed zero wind was wasted, or curtailed, which is unlikely.

This means  a 50 percent renewable energy mandate in Minnesota could potentially result in even more premature deaths in our state because temperatures here are much lower in the winter than they are in Japan. Those who use electricity for heating are obviously at a much higher risk of danger because data from the Energy Information Administration show electricity is already approximately 5 times more expensive than natural gas on an energy equivalent basis.

Renewable energy activists often claim that renewable energy sources save lives by reducing emissions of small particulates and emissions like sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides, but they conveniently ignore the fact that Minnesota’s air is already great, burning wood accounts for more pollution than coal-fired power plants, and that high energy prices are deadly.

If renewable energy modelers are serious about modeling for externalities, like stating that emissions from coal-fired power plants are causing premature deaths, there is no intellectually honest way they can ignore the deadly impacts that the policies they advocate for impose on Minnesota families, particularly among those who already struggle to pay their bills. In the end,

I’d wager that closing down our affordable coal plants and replacing them with wind, solar, natural gas, and the massive investment needed in the transmission system to transport electricity generated from wind and solar, will ultimately result in more premature deaths than the greatly-reduced emissions coming from our coal plants. This stance is also reinforced by the fact that indoor air quality is often several times worse than outdoor air quality. This means closing our coal plants is likely much more deadly than keeping them open.

Unfortunately, the policies being advanced by Governor Walz, the House of Representatives, and the utilities themselves are resulting in record-high electricity bills, with no relief in sight.