Researchers at the Great Plains Institute (GPI) and the University of Minnesota have created an online tool to “test drive” energy policies and study their effects on the region’s energy production, state government budgets and greenhouse gas emissions.

The Energy Choice Simulator (ECS) was developed to study the impacts of policy options on the Midwestern economy. ECS can model policy options that include incentives for renewable energy and carbon capture, low-carbon fuel standards, cap and trade, a carbon tax and moratoriums on polluting technologies.

“We think the Energy Choice Simulator will help shed light on critical energy policies being debated right now at the state, regional and federal levels,” says Steve Taff, a University of Minnesota economist who helped develop the model.

Researchers worked with experts in energy companies, utilities, regulatory agencies and non-profit organizations to program the model with the most current economic and greenhouse gas information.

“This model is the culmination of two years of work,” says Dane McFarlane, GPI energy policy analyst and one of the researchers who developed the model. “We are excited to release it to the public and hope that it will spark informed dialogue about energy policy among regional leaders.”

The model’s online user interface is free and available to the public to construct scenarios, change data assumptions or perform new experiments. Users can also download a copy of the model file and edit individual data points themselves.