First, the short answer to the question I ask in the headline is “yes.” Actually, it’s “HELL YES!!!” Why do I say that? First, check out Lazard’s “Levelized Cost of Energy” report, and particularly note the tables “Unsubsidized Levelized Cost of Energy Comparison” and “Cost of Carbon Abatement Comparison”. On the first chart, note that the cheapest form of energy (by far) is energy efficiency, at $0-$50/megawatthour (MWh), followed by onshore wind at $37-$81/MWh (and falling!), followed by utility-scale solar PV at $60-$86/MWh (and falling fast!), gas combined cycle at $61-$87/MWh, with nuclear far more expensive at around $124-$132/MWh (and NOT falling!) for current new U.S. nuclear construction. In short, nuclear power is super expensive compared to several other currently-available, non-or-low-carbon-emitting options. That’s how you end up with massive costs for building a new nuclear plant, such as the estimated “far north of ten billion dollars” for Domininion’s proposed North Anna 3 reactor.
Put it this way: you don’t have to be a nuclear scientist to figure out that you could get wayyyyyyy more “bang for the buck” from energy efficiency, onshore wind, utility-scale solar, natural gas combined cycle, and several other options compared to nuclear power. No wonder why nobody’s been building new nuclear power plants in the U.S. in decades, and no wonder why these things take enormous taxpayer subsidies to make them even marginally economical. Hmmmm.
Now, let’s look at this another way: to replace dirty coal-fired power, how much would different power-generation options cost (or save) compared to nuclear? For an answer to that question, see this graph by Lazard. The answer: not considering energy efficiency, which remains BY FAR the cheapest way to slash carbon emissions, Lazard says “an analysis of such implicit costs suggests that policies designed to promote wind and utility-scale solar development could be a particularly cost effective way of limiting carbon emissions.” As for nuclear, note that its cost is four times greater than utility-scale solar power to “abate” carbon emissions from existing coal-fired power plants. Also note that, other than energy efficiency, onshore wind power is a super-inexpensive way to “abate” carbon emission from coal-fired power plants.
All of which brings us to Gov. McAuliffe’s wildly, breathtakingly incorrect response to the moderator’s question, “is the contention that if the state just ramped up renewables and ramped up energy efficiency some more, it wouldn’t need more nuclear energy…is that a valid proposition?” McAuliffe’s response:
“It may be in the future, it isn’t today, because the cost at which you have to deliver the energy today…I’ve sat hours and hours with the Dominion folks; the cost of delivering energy from a wind turbine and a solar development field compared to what it is out of nuclear…[is] much higher.”
Bzzzzzzzzzzzzz — FALSE! Again, check out the Lazard “levelized cost of energy” report, or any other report you want to look at, or a gazillion news articles, and the answer is clear: new nuclear capcity is far, FAR more expensive than energy efficiency, onshore wind and utility-scale solar power (also natural gas combined cycle) in this country. Not even close. As for the bizarre contention that it supposedly costs more to transmit electricity from a utility-scale solar plant or onshore wind farm than a nuclear power plant, all I can say is…the hell?!? Note that Gov. McAuliffe apparently learned this nonsense from the “hours and hours” he spends with our pals at Dominion, wildly biased as they are towards (heavily subsidized) fossil fuels and nuclear power. In fact, there’s absolutely no reason to think that the power lines leading from utility-scale solar or onshore wind facility should cost more than the power lines leading from a nuclear power plant. I’d also add that if Dominion is SO concerned about the cost of transmission, I can offer them a way to cut that cost to zero; it’s called “rooftop solar,” which is plummeting in price (albeit still relatively expensive on an unsubidized basis), and which has a transmission cost essentially of zero, as it’s right on your roof, therefore requiring no new power lines at all.
Bottom line: yet again, as in my other posts on Gov. McAuliffe’s talk the other day at The Next Frontier of Climate Change” conference in Richmond, he has a lot of work to do in learning about energy markets, relative costs of different power generation options, etc., preferably BEFORE he talks about this issue in public again, and most definitely BEFORE he makes any further policy decisions on this crucially important topic.