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.


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.

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.

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

Making Clouds for a Living

Donell Banks works at Southern Nuclear’s Plant Vogtle units 3 and 4 as a shift supervisor in Operations, but is in the process of transitioning to his newly appointed role as the daily work controls manager. He has been in the nuclear energy industry for about 11 years.

I love what I do because I have the unique opportunity to help shape the direction and influence the culture for the future of nuclear power in the United States. Every single day presents a new challenge, but I wouldn't have it any other way. As a shift supervisor, I was primarily responsible for managing the development of procedures and programs to support operation of the first new nuclear units in the United States in more than 30 years. As the daily work controls manager, I will be responsible for oversight of the execution and scheduling of daily work to ensure organizational readiness to operate the new units.

I envision a nuclear energy industry that leverages the technology of today to improve efficiency…

Nuclear: Energy for All Political Seasons

The electoral college will soon confirm a surprise election result, Donald Trump. However, in the electricity world, there are fewer surprises – physics and economics will continue to apply, and Republicans and Democrats are going to find a lot to like about nuclear energy over the next four years.

In a Trump administration, the carbon conversation is going to be less prominent. But the nuclear value proposition is still there. We bring steady jobs to rural areas, including in the Rust Belt, which put Donald Trump in office. Nuclear plants keep the surrounding communities vibrant.

We hold down electricity costs for the whole economy. We provide energy diversity, reducing the risk of disruption. We are a critical part of America’s industrial infrastructure, and the importance of infrastructure is something that President-Elect Trump has stressed.

One of our infrastructure challenges is natural gas pipelines, which have gotten more congested as extremely low gas prices have pulled m…

Innovation Fuels the Nuclear Legacy: Southern Nuclear Employees Share Their Stories

Blake Bolt and Sharimar Colon are excited about nuclear energy. Each works at Southern Nuclear Co. and sees firsthand how their ingenuity powers the nation’s largest supply of clean energy. For Powered by Our People, they shared their stories of advocacy, innovation in the workplace and efforts to promote efficiency. Their passion for nuclear energy casts a bright future for the industry.

Blake Bolt has worked in the nuclear industry for six years and is currently the work week manager at Hatch Nuclear Plant in Georgia. He takes pride in an industry he might one day pass on to his children.

What is your job and why do you enjoy doing it?
As a Work Week Manager at Plant Hatch, my primary responsibility is to ensure nuclear safety and manage the risk associated with work by planning, scheduling, preparing and executing work to maximize the availability and reliability of station equipment and systems. I love my job because it enables me to work directly with every department on the plant…