To honor Xcel Energy’s successful introduction of legislation to give itself a “blank check” for its anticipated Prairie Island nuclear power plant retrofit, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and Community Power today released a video to tell the truth about what’s really in the “red box” that’s prevalent in Xcel’s widespread televised advertisements. For more information about Xcel’s power plant bill and where decisions will be made about it, visit ilsr.org.… Read More
With the rich history of cost overruns in the nuclear industry, Xcel Energy and Minnesota regulators probably shouldn’t have been surprised when the retrofit cost to the Monticello nuclear power plant ballooned to more than twice the original estimate late last year. Regulators are asking tough questions about whether the cost overruns are the responsibility of … Read More
As renewable energy grows, the grid needs to grow more flexible to accommodate variations in the wind and sun. This video explains the limitations of “baseload” nuclear and coal power plants to work alongside large amounts of clean power.… Read More
There’s an increasingly shrill discussion among utilities (and from their own Edison Electric Institute) about the threat to their business from distributed energy, as their customers shift to getting their own power from local renewable resources. Reports and news stories – e.g. “Adapt or Die” – suggest changes to the business model are imminent as power … Read More
It’s telling that the insurance industry won’t touch nuclear projects unless governments cap their liability. In Canada, the cap is now $650 million on disasters that can cost many billions of dollars to battle, excluding long-term economic impacts. Taxpayers, of course, cover the rest. Without such caps, the industry argues the cost of insurance would simply be too high.
The plumes of smoke rising from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor create a visceral reaction. But the crisis should not persuade Americans to abandon nuclear power.
Instead, Americans should abandon nuclear power for its prohibitive and un-competitive costs.
The wildly escalting costs of nuclear plants under construction in the U.S. are a perfect example. A pair of proposed nuclear power plants in Florida have “overnight” costs of $3,800 per kilowatt, but since nuclear power plants actually take eight years to construct, the total estimated project costs are closer to $6,800 per kilowatt (kW) of capacity. This figure is reinforced by an estimate for Progress Energy’s two new units ($6,300 per kW $8,800 per kW), and Georgia Power’s new plants ($4,000 per kW $6,335 per kW), both still incomplete.
As Mark Cooper notes in his thorough analysis of the so-called nuclear renaissance, this is nothing new. Most nuclear projects haven’t come in on budget, or even close.
But let’s be generous for a moment and assume the U.S. utilities can hold to their current cost estimates. What do those costs mean to consumers? At $6,500 per kW, the expected cost of nuclear electricity is over 15 cents per kWh ($150 per MWh).
At that price, investment bank Lazard estimates that only two technologies are more expensive than nuclear (crystalline silicon solar PV and natural gas peaking plants). But solar PV has significant near-term cost reduction potential and “gas peaking” only refers to the way we use natural gas, not its inherent cost (see Gas Combined Cycle). In the time it would take to build a nuclear plant (6-8 years, optimistically), every commercial energy technology could produce electricity for less.
Subsidies can change the picture – the picture most Americans have of nuclear, that is. The Union of Concerned Scientists recently reported that nuclear subsidies total nearly 7 cents per kWh, twice what a typical wind power plant receives and similar to the federal incentives offered for solar power. It’s time to let the market pick our winners, not outrageous government subsidies for nuclear power.
Beyond its (escalating) costs and huge subsidies, nuclear power also reinforces a centralized grid paradigm where the financial winners are utilities who pass through cost increases onto the backs of ratepayers (sometimes before the plant begins operations). Did we mention that Florida Progress will require $3 billion in transmission upgrades to accommodate its new nuclear plants? Compare that to distributed renewable energy sources that can often interconnect to the grid with a minimum of infrastructure upgrades.
The crisis in Japan is terrible, but we shouldn’t eschew nuclear power for its ability to cause immensely disproportionate harm during natural disasters. Instead, we should abandon this costly boondoggle for more cost-effective and renewable energy sources.
This story of a the proposed 2300 MW Tyrone nuclear power park (two power plants) for Minnesota is informative. Starting with the original proposal in the 1970s, Northern States Power (now Xcel Energy) was stopped by sharply falling demand in the late 1970s, and they shifted to an alternative proposal to build a 750 MW coal plant. Again energy consumption fell short of projections and Xcel will now be using a combination of Manitoba Hydro power and new wind projects to get 375 MW of new generation. The success in transforming the original dual nukes into a much smaller package of renewable energy was the result of local citizen opposition and state policy on conservation and renewable energy. The author, Dean Abrahamson, notes:
As with almost all major reforms, the movement to more sustainable power has been the result of actions taken by individuals and by states — Washington continues to reluctantly follow, not to lead. [emphasis mine]