Solar energy is a losing proposition for the ratepayers

In an earlier letter to the editor (Leader Herald, Aug. 27, page 6A) I calculated what would be needed to build a solar-electric power plant (SPP) to replace the soon-to-be-closed 2000 MWe Indian Point Energy Center in Westchester County.

A consortium of foreign companies has proposed to build a large-scale solar power farm in India. Coincidentally, this plant has the same nameplate capacity as my hypothetical SPP, that is, 4000 MWe. The estimated price tag is $4 billion (see A 2000 MWe pumped-storage hydropower plant would be needed to provide power and energy at night from excess energy produced during the day.

The 1000 MWe Blenheim-Gilboa (BG) pumped-storage plant cost about $230 million to build in 1973 (see, p. 132). Using a very conservative annual inflation rate of 3 percent (—Rate/Long—Term—Inflation.asp), two new BG plants would each cost about $1 billion and allow the proposed SPP in India to run as a baseload plant. Once again I’m assuming that a pumped storage plant is 100 percent efficient to simplify the calculation so that there is no difference between daytime and nighttime capacity (it’s actually 73 percent (see—Hydroelectric—Power—Station). .

Excluding the costs of land acquisition, transmission system upgrades and environmental mitigation, the price tag for this SPP works out to be about $6 billion, or about $17,000/kW; the SPP yields only 360 MWe of baseload capacity given solar power’s low capacity factor (see By comparison, the cost for a combined-cycle natural gas plant is about $900/kW (see—capcost.pdf, page 6).

Multiplying everything by a factor of six gives approximate parameters of the SPP that will yield 2000 MWe of round-the-clock capacity needed to replace the Indian Point Energy Center: the price tag would be $36 billion up front and the land area required would be about 200 square miles excluding the land area for the 12 pumped-storage plants.

Excluding O&M expenses, administrative expenses, payments in lieu of taxes, depreciation, environmental mitigation, capital reserve, and assuming a 20-year lifetime for the solar panels, a triple-A bond rating for the project owner and interest rate of 3 percent (extremely conservative), electric energy from this facility would cost $0.13/kW-hr. It is likely that the real-world number would be much higher.

So the governor’s energy plan is so much hyperbole that just creates more jobs and job security for the government regulators who will oversee it. For the ratepayers it is a losing proposition.



By Josh Bovee

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