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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What if: Nuclear Rules for Automobile Safety Recalls?

Fast Fission Podcast #23 – Download MP3 Here I’ve been reading a lot about the Toyota gas pedal recall because I own a Camry that is a few years old.  Several people have been killed in accidents resulting from sudden acceleration caused by a faulty accelerator design. So far my car is not in the group of affected vehicles, but I’m keeping my eye on it. I’m sure you’ve noticed the press is having a feeding frenzy and many are demonizing Toyota. Congress has decided to get involved – they’ve scheduled a hearing to oversee the government’s response. Overall it’s been much like when an airplane crashes or a contaminated food product gets recalled – some people die, government agencies demand action to fix the immediate problem, and politicians act concerned until the media moves on to the next high profile news story. Then the hypocrisy dawned on me – how differently we treat problems in the nuclear industry! For example, in Vermont where a minute, a barely measurable quantity of slightly radioactive liquid in test wells has politicians demanding action from Federal regulators, the state government and Public Service Board are delaying important decisions that threaten the plant’s long term financial viability, and many newspapers are regurgitating unsubstantiated claims of environmental harm made by sworn enemies of the plant.   Keep in mind that the tritium that has leaked from Vermont Yankee has not broken any laws, not exceeded any environmental limits, nor harmed even the smallest field mouse. Consider that in the entire history of the US nuclear industry (about 40 years) not a single person has died from a reactor mishap at any commercial nuclear reactor in the United States. However, in this single instance of a gas pedal design defect a number of people have died (the exact number is not available) , many more have been injured, and these types of problems occur almost every year! If the government response to the Toyota acceleration issue, a problem that has actually killed people, used the same rules that we apply to the operation of commercial nuclear plants (where no deaths have occurred) we would have Placed a federal ban on driving all Toyotas until the problem was thoroughly analyzed, the root cause determined, and repairs completed. There would be an extent of condition analysis by a team of engineers to determine what other vehicles have similar gas pedals, and to recommend a course of action. We would have added two full time government (NTSB) inspectors to every automobile manufacturing plant and every licensed automobile repair shop. The auto makers and repair shops would have to pay the salaries of the inspectors, plus...

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Cloudy Days Ahead for the Sunshine State

Download the MP3 Here This past week the Florida Public Service Commission voted to deny requests by the state’s two largest utilities to upgrade the state’s electrical systems by adding renewable energy, new gas turbines, a new gas pipeline, new reactors, and transmission lines.  This politically motivated decision is mind-numbing in a state with an over-taxed grid and an electricity supply that has not kept up with population increases. In this podcast Rod Adams of The Atomic Show and the Atomic Insights blog joins me for a chat about this terribly near-sighted decision, some possible motivations, and what it means for the people of Florida. Some other links related to this story: Renewable Energy plans will be scuttled by the FL PSC Decision. Westinghouse condemns the FL...

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Clean, Green Energy Jobs

  Fast Fission Podcast # 18 – mp3 file Duke Energy is one of the largest power producers in the Western Hemisphere.  They produce 35,000 MW of electricity in the USA, plus 4,000 in Latin America.  They have virtually every type of power plant: nuclear, coal, gas, hydro, wind, and solar. They also run natural gas distribution systems in two states. Duke knows energy, and Jim Rogers, their CEO, knows Duke.  When Jim Rogers speaks about energy people listen.  Last week Mr. Rogers was talking energy and jobs.   Jim says Duke’s experience has shown that nuclear energy provides more jobs and higher paying jobs than wind or solar power plants. “In an operation of a nuclear plant, there [are] .64 jobs per megawatt. The wind business–and we have a very large wind business – is .3 jobs per megawatt. In the solar business – and we’re installing solar panels – it’s about .1. But the difference in the jobs is quite different, because if you’re wiping off a solar panel, it’s sort of a minimum wage type of job, [with] much higher compensation for nuclear engineers and nuclear operators.  If our goal is to rebuild the middle class, nuclear plays a key role there, particularly if coal is out of the equation.” Mr. Roger’s comments made me wonder how many jobs might be created if we were to build new power plants of each type to meet our energy demands.  I started with the most recent Energy Outlook provided by the US Government at the Energy Information Administration web site.  This report states that 259 GW of new plants will be needed by 2030.  The number includes 30 GW to replace aging plants and the rest is for modest energy demand growth. Multiplying that 259,000 MW times the Duke estimates for the number of people per MW, we get the result (rounded to the nearest 1000): New Nuclear: 166,000 jobs New Wind: 78,000 jobs New Solar: 26,000 jobs                                 These numbers ignore the 2,000 to 3,000 jobs created building each new nuclear plant during the four year construction process.  Building wind and soar would also provide temporary construction jobs.  I also did not adjust for the lower capacity factors associated with wind and solar generation. We’ll assume smart grid technologies will enable improvements in wind and solar energy capacity and existing reserve capacity will back up wind and solar.  After all, these are the kinds of assumptions that wind and solar proponents make all the time. In Episode 60 of “This Week in Nuclear” I discussed...

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The Un-Scientific American

Fast Fission Podcast #15 – MP3 File This story will come as no big surprise for my pro-nuclear blogger friends, but for those of you who are not quite as engaged with the online energy debate, you really need to know about this. Since I was a teenager I’ve enjoyed the magazine Scientific American. I’ve viewed them as informative and a good source of credible, accurate information about emerging trends in many fields of science and technology. The periodical began in 1845 and over the years its contributors have included, according to their website, more than 120 Nobel laureates and such amazing thinkers as Albert Einstein and Jonas Salk. This it way it pains me so much that this magazine has deteriorated to the level of utter trash and garbage. I will think long and hard before I ever again purchase a copy of the magazine. In this podcast I discuss why. When I first read the Scientific American article I was outraged and angry, but now I’m just sad.  Sad that a respected journal and a source of information for more than 100 years has deteriorated to the point that it is willfully being used as a platform to push a political agenda with total disregard to fundamentals of research and sound science. Links: A Plan to Power 100 Percent of the Planet with Renewables by Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucchi at the Scientific American Critique of ‘A path to sustainable energy by 2030′ by Barry Brooks at BraveNewClimate.com John...

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