One of the policy goals motivating programs to increase renewable energy investment is that renewable electric generation will help reduce emissions of CO2 as well as emissions of conventional pollutants (e.g., SO2 and NOx).
As a policy instrument, Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) encourage investments in wind, solar and other generation sources with the goal of reducing air emissions from electricity production. Increased electricity production from wind turbines is expected to displace electricity production from fossil-fired plants, thus reducing overall system emissions. We analyze the emissions impacts of incremental investments in utility-scale wind power, on the order of 1GW beyond RPS goals, in the Western United States using a utility-scale generation dispatch model that incorporates the impacts of transmission constraints. We find that wind investment in some locations leads to slight increases in overall emissions of CO2, SO2 and NOx. The location of wind farms influences the environmental impact by changing the utilization of transmission assets, which affects the overall utilization of power generation sources and thus system-level emissions. Our results suggest that renewable energy policy beyond RPS targets should be carefully crafted to ensure consistency with environmental goals.