Skip to main content

On Politifact, President Clinton and Nuclear Costs

You may recall that in November, President Clinton made the following statement about the relative costs of nuclear, solar and wind in an appearance on The Daily Show:
"Solar energy and wind energy ... would already be competitive with coal if you had to pay the extraneous costs of coal -- the health care costs and other things. And ... wind within two years and solar within five will be competitive in price with coal. They're both cheaper than nuclear right now."
In response, Lou Jacobson, a reporter with Politifact, took a closer look at Clinton's claim, and rated it half-true:
Clinton was correct about wind energy being "cheaper than nuclear right now," at least the onshore kind. But for now, nuclear beats the cheapest form of solar energy on price. So we rate his statement Half True.
That claim didn't sit well with NEI's David Bradish, who pulled apart the numbers and suggested that Politifact change its rating from "half true" to "mostly false":
As shown above, the low end of nuclear’s cost range ($109.70/MWh) is lower than the high end of wind’s cost range ($115/MWh); therefore wind is not always cheaper than nuclear.

Further, the amount of wind that can be built is limited to specific places in the U.S. that receive adequate wind flow (see map below).

A substantial amount of wind cannot be built in places such as the Southeast due to a lack of natural resources. Areas with low wind resources will produce less electricity from installed turbines which in turn cause higher levelized costs.

[...]

Currently, 104 nuclear reactors (101 gigawatts) generate 20% of the country’s baseload power at low operating costs. This compares to 40 GW of wind and 1 GW of solar generating 2.2% and 0.0003% of the country’s electricity, respectively, at intermittent times.

The folks at PolitiFact should reconsider their conclusion about former President Clinton’s statements and change it from Half True to Mostly False.
Back on November 22, I passed David's analysis along to Jacobson, and here's the response I got:
I apologize for not getting back sooner. I was gone for most of last week and now we're on a short week.

We are expecting to do a full Mailbag treatment on this topic, probably next week, since we have received many comments on the story. We are happy to run your comments (likely abridged for space) in that piece. We usually do not run names with the comments in our mailbag items, but your case would likely be an exception, assuming you'd like to be identified.

I will say that our comments have included many examples of complaints that we were too soft on nuclear (and too hard on renewables) and many that we were too hard on nuclear (and too soft on renewables). Given the complexity of analyzing this issue -- both nuclear and renewables have complaints about how they were treated by the DOE methodology -- I do not see an obvious reason for us to change our rating from the fairly neutral Half True. But that's not my call--the editors determine the rating, and the writers only make recommendations.

Thanks for writing....

Lou Jacobson
Well, it's now December 8, and I have yet to see an update to the original piece. I checked in with Jacobson again today, and he wrote back that they've been busy, but are still planning to do a follow up. While I'm happy to take him at his word, we promise to keep you updated as to if/when Politifact gets around to doing a deeper dive on the evidence. As far as we're concerned, we think their readers deserve it.

Comments

Rod Adams said…
Doesn't it frost you when a math based question seems to be judged to be a matter of opinion? The numbers are the numbers - existing nuclear is far cheaper than wind or solar. Future nuclear and future wind are just projections that entail a lot of assumptions.

One thing I find terribly interesting when it comes to assumptions about future power costs is how modest nuclear analysts are and how optimistic wind, solar and natural gas analysts are about projected capacity factors.

Most spreadsheets for wind projects assume a CF of 33%, but the AVERAGE in the UK over the past several years has been less than 20%. That makes the per unit output cost projection off by about 50%.
seth said…
I have trouble understanding why nuclear advocates always cost nuclear using the disgraceful private power model dependent on ludicrous Wall Street financing requirements and based on first of a kind FOAK costing.

If you take the $4B/Gw that the FOAK VC Summer project is coming in at and have ultra efficient public power utilities like TVA build it instead, that $4B/Gw is less than 2 cents a kwh financed at 5%. Now add the 2 cents a kwh it costs to run ancient nukes, and subtract a half cent due to the current 1950's antiquated O&M and enrichment technology.

3.5 cents a kwh for first of a kind nukes that Westinghouse claims will drop to half the current cost when factory module production gets going - 2.5 cents a kwh for public power.

That's cheaper than natural gas even at current fire sale prices.

To get an idea of how much cheaper reactors get after a score or so are built look at Candu's built around the world to 2007 for $2B/GW.

http://www.cnnc.com.cn/tabid/168/Default.aspx

Why base your pricing on backward US industry models when the more modern industrial structure in China, Japan and South Korea are regularly building nukes at less than $2B/Gw or less than 3 cents a kwh for public power.
seth said…
in addition having reviewed Bradish's column, I note Bradish makes the huge mistake of assuming EIA figures are based in any sense on reality. Instead EIA costing bows to the greenie influenced politics so notorious in the Obama administration.

For wind and nuclear costs I'd suggest he look at real projects not propaganda.

Here is a real wind project PGE's latest wind farm build $15B/Gw (20 cents Kwh at PGE's discount rate)

Google "pge-to-purchase-operate-246-mw-manzana-wind-project"

Ontario's feed in tariff pays wind producers $120/Mwh and $190/Mwh for offshore.

Google "Thanet Offshore Wind Farm" to get the actual cost of a recently completed offshore wind farm.

Nukes are generally built close to load centers - no need for transmission projects.

A recent study on the other hand had New England's cost to move its onshore wind to market at $80/Mwh paid for by the public.

http://ansnuclearcafe.org/2011/01/27/the-economics-of-wind-power/

Another study estimated the cost of gas backup at another $80/Mwh also paid by the public.

Many studies have shown that wind with gas backup does not save any GHG's when compared to just burning gas.

In reality not EIA fantasy land wind costs upwards of 30 cents a kwh.
Anonymous said…
@ Seth -- I'd be VERY interested to see your list of investors willing to finance new nuclear power units in the US at 5%.

Popular posts from this blog

How Nanomaterials Can Make Nuclear Reactors Safer and More Efficient

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

From the batteries in our cell phones to the clothes on our backs, "nanomaterials" that are designed molecule by molecule are working their way into our economy and our lives. Now there’s some promising work on new materials for nuclear reactors.

Reactors are a tough environment. The sub atomic particles that sustain the chain reaction, neutrons, are great for splitting additional uranium atoms, but not all of them hit a uranium atom; some of them end up in various metal components of the reactor. The metal is usually a crystalline structure, meaning it is as orderly as a ladder or a sheet of graph paper, but the neutrons rearrange the atoms, leaving some infinitesimal voids in the structure and some areas of extra density. The components literally grow, getting longer and thicker. The phenomenon is well understood and designers compensate for it with a …

Missing the Point about Pennsylvania’s Nuclear Plants

A group that includes oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania released a study on Monday that argues that twenty years ago, planners underestimated the value of nuclear plants in the electricity market. According to the group, that means the state should now let the plants close.

Huh?

The question confronting the state now isn’t what the companies that owned the reactors at the time of de-regulation got or didn’t get. It’s not a question of whether they were profitable in the '80s, '90s and '00s. It’s about now. Business works by looking at the present and making projections about the future.

Is losing the nuclear plants what’s best for the state going forward?

Pennsylvania needs clean air. It needs jobs. And it needs protection against over-reliance on a single fuel source.


What the reactors need is recognition of all the value they provide. The electricity market is depressed, and if electricity is treated as a simple commodity, with no regard for its benefit to clean air o…

Why Nuclear Plant Closures Are a Crisis for Small Town USA

Nuclear plants occupy an unusual spot in the towns where they operate: integral but so much in the background that they may seem almost invisible. But when they close, it can be like the earth shifting underfoot.

Lohud.com, the Gannett newspaper that covers the Lower Hudson Valley in New York, took a look around at the experience of towns where reactors have closed, because the Indian Point reactors in Buchanan are scheduled to be shut down under an agreement with Gov. Mario Cuomo.


From sea to shining sea, it was dismal. It wasn’t just the plant employees who were hurt. The losses of hundreds of jobs, tens of millions of dollars in payrolls and millions in property taxes depressed whole towns and surrounding areas. For example:

Vernon, Vermont, home to Vermont Yankee for more than 40 years, had to cut its municipal budget in half. The town closed its police department and let the county take over; the youth sports teams lost their volunteer coaches, and Vernon Elementary School lost th…