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...

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Why am I so passionate about nuclear energy? (Fast Fission Podcast 7)

Get the MP3 Here Today is Blog Action Day 2009 and this year’s topic is Climate Change. Is man made climate change real or not?  Heck, I don’t know.  What I DO know is this: whether or not human activity is causing global warming or not, there are certain things that it just makes sense for us to be doing. We need to wean ourselves off of imported fossil fuels as our primary energy source.  Oil and gas won’t last forever and prices are sure to rise as supplies dwindle and demand grows.  Imported fossil fuels come from places in the world that have amassed huge amounts of wealth at our expense.  A lot of that money is funding people who want to kill us and destroy the freedoms that millions of people have died to earn and to protect. We should stop burning coal because it is polluting our air and water with arsenic, mercury, acid rain, and particulate matter that we know is killing tens of thousands of people each year.  Thousands more die each year digging coal out of the ground. We need to become energy independent so that the countries that supply our fossil fuel addiction will no longer have influence on our foreign policies and internal business. We need to create high paying jobs for our people producing energy that we make at home, and energy products we can export to the rest of the world.  This will improve our standard of living and ensure our children and grandchildren have at least as good a life as we have. We need to respect the environment and choose a way of life that is both sustainable and supports a high standard of living. We need to find a way to help the less fortunate people of the world to rise out of poverty.  Access to plentiful, low cost, clean energy is the single most important factor in raising the standard of living of a society. I live and work in the United States, but that is not relevant; all of these same basic principles apply regardless of where you live. I am an engineer and an experienced manager.  I could make a good living in any industry.  I choose to work in the nuclear industry because I believe in the technology and the great contributions that nuclear power does and will do for society.  Nuclear energy can help us accomplish all of these lofty goals.  I know this in my head and in my heart.  Nuclear energy is not perfect, no source of energy is.  When used wisely and with respect energy from the atom...

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Will the USA follow Europe and become reliant on Russian Natural Gas? (Fast Fission Podcast 4)

Get the MP3 Here News stories are not always as benign as they appear. On October 9, 2009 Forbes.com ran a story about Gazprom, Russia’s state owned natural gas company.  It would seem they’ve set up shop in Houston, TX and have begun a very aggressive program to enter the US natural gas market.  They are targeting 5% of the market within 5 years, and 10% within 10 years. Their strategy?  Import LNG into the US and sell it at a price low enough to undercut domestic suppliers.  Since the US uses about 60 billion cubic feet of gas per day, that would mean importing 6 billion cu feet per day from Russia. That amount of gas would mean $64 Million flowing out of the US into Russia every day, along with a loss of American jobs and energy security. Russia already has undue political influence in Europe where they control a large percentage of the natural gas supply.  There’s little the USA can do to prevent the Russians from carryout out their plan; LNG is a commodity bought and sold on the international market.  The only sure way to prevent importing energy is to have a supply of lower cost home-grown energy.  The only large scale domestic energy sources with low enough costs to compete with gas are coal and nuclear.  Wind and solar can’t compete with the price and are too unpredictable for base load energy.  With air pollution and carbon concerns, it’s unlikely coal will be an option for expansion in the near term, at least until carbon capture and storage is commercialized. That leaves nuclear energy as the only option.  And it is a good option too! Each new nuclear plant that comes on line eliminates the need to burn 250 million cubic feet of natural gas per day. Using current natural gas prices,every large nuclear plant displaces $857K per day in gas sales.    The same is true in Europe, where each nuclear plant built takes a bite out of Gazprom’s...

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Lessons from Dr. Evil (Episode 67)

Listen to the podcast here. Have you noticed that the numbers we use in daily conversation keep getting bigger and bigger? When I was young my father pointed out to me that a family who had one million dollars could live off the interest alone, and would have a tough time spending it all. While that was certainly true at the time, the value of a million dollars is not what it used to be. If you listen to the podcast you’ll hear an audio clip of one of my favorite movie villains to help illustrate my point.  Even Dr. Evil had trouble comprehending the size of a billion dollars, but what hundreds of billions or even a trillion? We hear and read those numbers in the news and in conversation, but what do they really mean? It’s easy to understand the number of zeros that make them different, but that still be pretty abstract. I contend that many of us really don’t comprehend how large those numbers are when it comes to measuring things in the real world.  We need visual or mental references to help us understand the scale of such large quantities. Let’s use electrical power as an example. The base unit of measure for electrical power is the Watt, but what is the difference between a watt, a KW, a MW, and a GW? 1 watt will barely power a small incandescent light bulb like a bathroom night light. 1 kilowatt (1,000 watts) is equal ~ 1.3 HP, about the same energy output as a small lawn mower engine. The average household in the USA uses about 1 KW of electricity on an on-going basis if averaged over an entire year. 1 Megawatt (1 million watts) is enough electricity to power a small town. Large diesel locomotive engines generate in the 3 to 5 MW range. 1 Gigawatt (1 billion watts) is the size of a large central station power plant, and is enough energy to power about 1 million homes. 1 Terawatt (1 trillion watts) is energy on a continental scale. The total worldwide electricity demand is about 15 TW. Now to the real point of this podcast – I want to talk about carbon capture and storage, and the scale of the challenge this concept presents. To put it bluntly, the scale is bigger than huge, it’s even bigger than enormous. The amount of carbon dioxide gas released by coal and natural gas plants is planetary in scale. Let me describe what I mean by that. The US DOE estimates that US and Canada stationary power plants produce 3.8 billion tones of CO2...

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House Releases Draft Climate Change Bill and A Bit of Nuclear Nistory (Podcast Episode 65)

Listen to the Podcast Here Operation Sea Orbit – 1964 (Front to Back: USS Enterprise, USS Long Beach, & USS Bainbridge) The Markey / Waxman Climate Change Bill Momentum is building towards greenhouse gas regulation in the United States. Two weeks ago the house of representatives released draft climate change legislation sponsored by Rep. Henry Waxman and Rep. Edward Markey. On Friday the US Environmental Protection Agency turned up the heat when they declared CO2 and other greenhouse gasses “hazards to public health” and labeled CO2 a pollutant. This action gives the EPA authority to regulate CO2 emissions even if congress does not pass legislation focused on curbing greenhouse gas releases. The Waxman/Markey draft legislation would evoke a national renewable energy portfolio standard that will force electric utilities to get a large percentage of the energy they sell from renewable sources. The legislation defines renewable energy as solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, biomass, landfill gas, and wave energy. The required percentages would phase in starting at 6% in 2012, increasing to to 25% by 2039. Calendar year Required annual percentage 2012 ……………………………………………………………………. 6.0 2013 ……………………………………………………………………. 6.0 2014 ……………………………………………………………………. 8.5 2015 ……………………………………………………………………. 8.5 2016 ……………………………………………………………………. 11.0 2017 ……………………………………………………………………. 11.0 2018 ……………………………………………………………………. 14.0 2019 ……………………………………………………………………. 14.0 2020 ……………………………………………………………………. 17.5 2021 ……………………………………………………………………. 17.5 2022 ……………………………………………………………………. 21.0 2023 ……………………………………………………………………. 21.0 2024 ……………………………………………………………………. 23.0 2025 through 2039 ………………………………………………………… 25.0 Utilities who are unable to meet the mandated standards would be fined $50 per megawatt hour of every megawatt they sell that exceed the renewable limits. That penalty could very quickly bankrupt companies that fail to comply. For example, a single 1000 megawatt coal fired power plant would be fined $1.2 million per day. This is a nearly impossible mandate to meet. If this provision becomes law several things will happen: There is already a huge amount of capitol flowing into wind and solar energy because of the lucrative subsidies that pay much of the installation costs, plus tax credits that some states and the federal government have put into place to encourage investment into these politically favored but uneconomic energy sources.  Taxpayers are already footing a lion’s share of the expense of installing most wind and solar power plants. A national renewable portfolio standard will cause even more demand for these intermittent power sources. Unfortunately there is no way the supply can keep up with demand.  Utilities in areas of the country with plentiful hydo power will initially be able to meet the standards, but most of the USA has little hydro power.  According to the Energy Information Administration, in 2007 the combined total for wind, solar, wood and other biomass, and geothermal accounted for...

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