New US Backed Wind Energy Project Costs Twice as Much As the Same Amount of Nuclear Energy

The US Department of Energy issued a press release today announcing a new $102 Million loan guarantee for a 50.6 MW wind farm near Roxbury, Maine and an 8 mile transmission line to connect it to the grid.  Before we join hands in carbon-free jubilation let’s do the math:

$102 Million for 50.6 MW that will operate (best case) at 30% capacity = $6.72 million per megawatt (MW) of delivered electricity

Well now, that’s an interesting number, but what does it mean in the real world?  Let’s see how it compares to building other forms of large scale carbon-free energy like a nuclear power plant.

A Westinghouse AP-1000 reactor produces 1,154 MW at about a 90% capacity factor, thus delivering  a virtually consistant 1,040 MW.  The reported “all in” cost for two such rectors like the ones currently under construction at the Vogtle station in Georgia is about $8 Billion (or $4 Billion for 1040 MW).

How much would it cost to build the same energy delivery capacity with wind power (as shown above)?  Let’s find out:

Wind costs $6.72 million per MW * 1040 MW = $7.75 Billion

So this simple example of two current real world projects demonstrates wind generated electricity costs twice as much to build as the same quantity of nuclear generated electricity.  By the way, I’ve been very kind to wind in my analysis because the worldwide average capacity factor is more like 19.6%, not the 30% I’ve used in my comparison.  That difference would increase the cost of wind by another 50% to more than $10 Billion (2.5 times the cost of nuclear).

So would someone please tell me why the United States is squandering precious limited financial resources on intermittent wind energy projects that cost twice as much as an equivalent amount of reliable nuclear energy?

Dr. Chu, you should be ashamed!

Edit on March 8, 2011: I failed to consider generous state and federal subsidies that typically cover 30% to 50% of the cost of new wind energy installations, and the accelerated depreciation that assures investors get a rapid return on their investment even if the project produces little electricity.  These add further to the true cost of wind energy.

Author: John Wheeler

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