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The Wind on the Water

cape-wind This happened last Wednesday:

The federal government has approved the Cape Wind project. U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made the announcement at the State House in Boston on Wednesday, with Gov. Deval Patrick by his side.

We wrote about this four months ago, when Salazar suggested this decision was coming. This key to the project outlines its contours – in sum, 170 MW of average capacity utilizing 140 turbines covering about 25 square miles of ocean. And it should provide electricity for about 75 percent of the cape and island folk (or about 200,000).

Here’s Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick:

This day has been long in coming. For nine years, the Cape Wind project has undergone the closest scrutiny by state and federal agencies and by the public. There are thoughtful views on all sides of this question and they have been acknowledged and considered seriously. But today’s decision affirms that on balance Cape Wind is good for our environment and good for our energy needs.

So he’s for it. Here’s one of his counterparts in the upcoming gubernatorial election, state Treasurer Timothy Cahill (who’s running as an independent; Cahill is a former Democrat who is running on mostly liberal ideas):

“It’s an industrial-sized plant in Nantucket Sound, and, in my mind, if it doesn’t lower the cost of electricity and energy, then I can’t support it, because, at the end of the day, it makes us less competitive.’’

We have to say, this comment doesn’t parse at all unless Cahill means that Massachusetts cannot export the electricity at a viable price. We hope not, though, as that would make Cahill seem like a man watching a boat sail off without him. Cahill has some other issues with it:

“I don’t think it’s the real solution,’’ he said. “It will make us feel good about ourselves, just like covering every citizen in Massachusetts with health care made us feel good. On paper and mentally, it’s the right thing to do.

“I understand the attraction to wind, because it seems so benign,’’ he continued. “It’s not as benign as people make it out to be.”

No, it’s pretty benign. We’ve had fun with the idea of berserk turbines sawing though the unwary, but we don’t pretend that’s very realistic. However, we do agree that something that makes one feel good can lead to an easier sell politically. (Cape Wind took 10 years, so it wasn’t that easy.) But something that’s the right thing to do “on paper and mentally” really might be the right thing to do.


We were a little curious about how Cape Wind intends to get that electricity to the islanders. We doubt transmission lines have been built to handle this yet. We’re still not completely sure, but a study by ISO New England, hosted at the Cape Wind Web site covers this, at least sort of:

Among the key results identified in the study, the analysis of transmission development required to support the integration of New England wind resources indicates that focusing on offshore wind results is the most cost-effective use of new and existing transmission, the ISO said, adding that this also allows for the integration of some near-shore inland wind resources.

Cost effective sounds good. How cost effective?

Each of the scenarios identified showed that significant new
transmission investment would be required to move energy from
renewable resources to customers throughout New England. For
example, the ISO said, New England could support the integration of roughly 8,500 MW of low-carbon resources through a combination of offshore and inland wind in New England (5,500 MW) and expanded transmission interconnections with Quebec (1,500 MW) and New Brunswick (1,500 MW), for an estimated cost of about $10 billion in new transmission facilities in New England.

That cost-effective – remember, though, this is a more ambitious project than just hooking up Cape Wind.


If there were nuclear advocacy arguments against wind power, they’d probably try: too little electricity generation for too much land (or water) mass; can’t do base load – depends on the wind blowing; and perhaps some of the old Cape Wind arguments – blocks nice ocean landscapes and ruins the good work of many Sunday painters.

But they’d be wrong and not giving wind its due – it’s clean, it adds electricity generation capacity no matter how many nuclear energy plants are also built and it ensures energy security when that has become a primary national concern. Those are much stronger arguments and benefit from being true. Can one really be for nuclear energy and against wind energy? We can’t see how.”

And remember, it’s the right thing to do “on paper and mentally.” That’s a start.

As far as the eye can see.


uvdiv said…
"If there were nuclear advocacy arguments against wind power, they’d probably try: too little electricity generation for too much land (or water) mass; can’t do base load – depends on the wind blowing; and perhaps some of the old Cape Wind arguments – blocks nice ocean landscapes and ruins the good work of many Sunday painters."

And, um, cost? The project's pricetag is quoted as "at least $2 billion" (AP [1]), and the output is 468 MW nameplate capacity and 170 MW average output (36% capacity factor) (Cape Wind [2]), which is $11.76/W baseload equivalent. This is (glossing over many variables) some 200-400% more expensive than conventional nuclear -- as NEI notes is certainly aware -- and that IS a big deal. It is a fatal flaw of offshore wind, nothing less.

[1] Mass. Cape Wind gets thumbs up, thumbs down [AP, 4/30/2010]

[2] Cape Wind project: How much electricity will Cape Wind provide?"
Alice said…
Not baseload.
Not load - following or dispatchable.
Requires expensive gas turbine backup.

Will ratchet up power costs to all customers not already locked into pre-wind prices. (see Denmark experience)

Half the turbines will require gearbox replacements within 2 to 4 years at costs of a few $ million each.

You can't just drive out and work on the things anytime you want. If they're down, they may be down for months at a time.

Why don't wind advocates ever really work through all the numbers?
Paul Lindsey said…
I think the 36% capacity factor is tremendously optimistic. According to market download data [1] from 4/21/09 through 4/20/10, the total power production of DK-West wind farms was 5,571,413 MWh. According to [2], The rated capacity of DK-West wind farms was 3,180 MW. That results in an annually capacity factor of 20%.


[2] page 3
DocForesight said…
Is NEI Nuclear Notes trying to 'play nice' with the 'renewable energy' kids in the hopes that they'll reciprocate? Don't count on it.

It isn't being critical or nit-picky when the raw evidence - physics and economics - dictates that intermittent energy transformers don't stand up to fair scrutiny.

When large nuclear plants generate 90% of capacity with very low fuel costs for 60 years (or more) on a comparatively miniscule land footprint, then it's hard to find common ground with the alternative power sources.
Ross said…
I would pile on but the previous comments have pretty much covered it. I don't have to be for wind and certainly not off-shore wind.
Phil said…
Our whole civilization, including that on Cape Cod, is built around baseload electricity generation. Wind power is intermittent. It's not going to work. It's impossible for it to work.

It's going to be ludicrously expensive, ugly, harmful to wildlife, and it's going to result in higher output of CO2 thanks to all the gas that's going to have to burn.

But somebody will "feel good" about it.
gunter said…
Howdy folks,

Since we're just shootin' the breeze here anyways, I'm surprised nobody has raised the risks associated with air spills from offshore wind farms...

oh,that's right, there aren't any--just enjoy the breeze.

When President Obama talks about retiring those "tired old arguments," it should include this increasingly irrelavent argument over baseload.

With the US arrival to offshore wind, finally, in case nobody noticed, wind power is poised for a quantum leap in generation capacity. This dramatic increase in generating capacity will drive inovative storage systems like gangbusters and make them more attractive and cost effective. And I have to say, more so than conceptualizing an ever elusive nuclear waste storage system.

I would like to see an offshore wind project do an environmental impact statement for below-seabead geological storage of compressed air as part of the development of the baseload wind concept.

You can check out NREL's concept for baseload wind at:
Phil said…
gunter that is going to cost hundreds of times more than nuclear plants would. It's a fantasy. Good luck with it.

It should be done as a pilot program just to test the feasibility of it. I'm sure the compressed air baseload from wind is progressing right there with sequestered CO2 "clean coal".

And of course nothing like this or this will happen in our waters.
gunter said…

Big difference between CO2 sequestration and compressed air both in volume and hazard potential.

That will bear out in an EIS.

As far as cost, well, the sky is the already the limit for nukes.
Jason said…

You say the sky is already the limit for nukes, but you seem to have ignored uvdiv pointing out that Cape Wind's cost per average capacity is at least double that of nuclear. Do you disagree with uvdiv's calculation? Or is the high (as you say) cost of nuclear a blank check for any power source you prefer?

You also mention that offshore wind in America will lead to a deus ex machina for energy storage. I'm a little more skeptical. You seem to ignore all the information about nuclear waste storage (which occurs at WIPP already for mid-level waste...) that shows there are solutions, the US just lacks a coherent path forward for the issue. So, when nuclear waste storage folks say it can be done, and can actually point to it being done, it's wishful thinking. When it's storage solutions for intermittent power sources, it's practically preordained and we only have a short time before those solutions reveal themselves now that Cape Wind is coming.

You do yourself no favors by adopting such silly positions. It only shows that your organization has no interest in rationality or science. You've staked out your position (Nuclear = Bad) and the rest is just ex post facto justification.
Phil said…
"Big difference between CO2 sequestration and compressed air both in volume and hazard potential."

But there's no difference in how close we are to implementing either scheme. And the fact that neither will ever be implemented because they are so absurd.

But they should try a pilot just in case - for both. Even if just to prove what a boneheaded idea they were. I don't believe either has a future.
gunter said…
Yes, i disagree with the logic.

The cost of wind, at least on-shore turbines, is coming down and more dramatically as deployment increases. I havent seen any data but I suspect the same is or will be true for off-shore.

The cost of nuclear is dramatically going up. No question. The financiers have already determined that there is no accurate way to assess final cost of construction of a project, let alone, its fuel cost, security, waste management, environmental clean-up.

I dont know how you double intangible costs except for arguments sake...

Again, when I debated NEI's vp of communications in 2005 on CSPAN, he said that the cost of new construction was $1500/kw.

That figure was never accurate or intended to be a true representation, merely bait for the trap. Same goes for current estimates which now stand as much as $8,000-$15,000 /kw.
Jason said…

You disagree with the logic regarding wind cost estimates? The calculation was straightforward and based on the $2billion cost estimate mentioned in that AP article. You say the cost of wind is coming down. So do you mean that the Cape Wind project will cost less than $2 billion, or do you agree that that project will cost over $11,000 per kW of useful capacity (you would probably prefer to quote wind capacity as capacity, but one can easily demonstrate the silliness in that argument by building a windmill in a hypothetical area that never has wind -- still 1 MW capacity, but never generates electricity), but that future wind projects should cost less and less? You should be more clear.

At the end of the day, however, your argument, just like your previous argument, hinges on the assumption that costs will dramatically come down. That's not a particularly strong position, especially when you have so far ignored the figures for Cape Wind.

The other costs for nuclear you mention are factored into levelized costs, which according to the EIA are below that of wind and solar power. Do you disagree with the EIA? And since I'm pretty sure you do, can you this time around provide some sort of references?

EIA citation: (

Nuclear power is to cost $8000-$15000 per kilowatt?

Let's look at some estimates, just as uvdiv did for Cape Wind:

Vogtle 3&4: Cost estimate $14 billion (World Nuclear News), Capacity 2234 MWe (World Nuclear News), Capacity Factor 0.9 (US average neatly rounded)
Cost per average capacity: about $7000.
That's lower than your lower bound, and less than half of your upper bound.

STP 3&4: Cost estimate $10 billion (World Nuclear News) capacity: 2700 MWe (wikipedia ABWR article x 2) capacity factor 0.9
Cost per average capacity: $4100 per kW.

So, it doesn't seem like your $8000-$15000 figure holds water. And you further imply that costs would be even higher than that.

What's your explanation for why the estimates and numbers being quoted for the wind and nuclear projects contradict your claims? (And please don't say again that 'wind keeps coming down' while 'nuclear keeps going up' -- the great jump from 2005 to 2007 in nuclear costs was driven principally by huge increases in materials costs, which have since come down and would equally apply to wind projects. Also the First-of-a-Kind (in the US at least - AP1000s are under construction in China and ABWRs have been built in Japan) does increase risk of cost overruns, but this applies to Cape Wind as well.)

I have engaged with you in this discussion because I read previous comments referring to you as a "troll," and I thought that might be an unfair statement. So far I haven't been impressed. Perhaps your next response will include references or even better, actual responses to my questions.
gunter said…
Good morning,

What's that about devils and details?

In terms of that old devil of cost and time of completion, FPL's Levy County nuke is the typical and most topical example announcing that it is delaying the first shovel from 2017 to 2021 and a still climbing cost now estimated at $22.5 billion for 2200MW.


Cape Wind, as the US pilot offshore wind project, very likely carries some of that same risk for completion costs which with experience will come down as are on-shore wind deployyment costs.

Its simply far fetched to use Levy County that as a reference point to say that Cape Wind is going to cost more than $22,000kW?

Then again, don't expect more than shootin'the breeze on this blog.

Does this count as trolling?
yojox said…

Thanks for the response and the reference. Most of your previous claims remain unreferenced, but this is a definite improvement.

For the Levy County reactors, $22.5 is the upper bound on the estimate. The World Nuclear News article on the same issue has the cost at $17.2 - $22.5 billion (see below). (Actually this figure includes $3 billion in transmission costs, which don't seem to be included in Cape Wind's estimate either. The cost also includes financing, and I'm not sure whether Cape Wind's estimate does.)

World Nuclear News: "Meanwhile, Progress said that its current estimate for the cost of the proposed Levy plant is between $17.2 billion and $22.5 billion. This cost includes land, transmission lines, fuel and financing costs. The company had previously put the estimated cost as up to $17.2 billion."

Let's run the numbers for Levy County then:

Project cost: $17.2-22.5 billion (WNN and your reference)
Capacity: 2200 MWe
Capacity factor: 0.9

Cost per avg capacity: $8,690 - $11,360.
Let's also say this is the typical reactor project as you say it is.

Reminder: Cape Wind's calculation came to $11,760.

The following past statements would then be in error:

"Cape wind is 200%-400% the cost of nuclear." - Based on the three cost estimates for US reactors we've found it is more like 100% - 280%. (Caution: Not sure what exactly is included in Cape Wind, Vogtle, and STP cost estimate -- we're probably comparing apples and oranges.)

"As far as cost, well, the sky is the already the limit for nukes." - actually the cost per avg capacity delivered for even the highest number for nuclear came in roughly equal with Cape Wind.

"Current estimates [for new nuclear] stand at $8000-$15000/kW" - the range we found was $4,100 - $11,360/kW.

So we've shown that the highest available all-in cost estimate of the planned new US reactors comes in about the same as whatever is included in Cape Wind's $2 billion. (And the other cost estimates are much lower) It would be interesting to see what Cape Wind's cost would come to if it was able to supply "wind baseload" with CO2 compression. That would be a better comparison.

If this exercise has taught us anything it's that comparing cost of construction vs. capacity is tricky, and not even entirely helpful. That's why I much prefer discussing levelized costs:


Advanced Nuclear: $119/MWh
Offshore Wind: $191/MWh

Onshore Wind: $149/MWh
Solar PV: $396/MWh
Solar Thermal: $257/MWh
seth said…
Real cost of nuclear power. Note that labor is a small part of nuclear cost.

American nuclear costs are all overregulation and private power finance related.

Two real nuke builds one actual cost, one sale cost.

$2B/Gw Candu 2.0 cents a kwh with 5% finance

$1.2B Westinghouse 1.5 cents a kwh with 5% finance. Those are the same nukes as Volgtle.

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