West Texas Wind is not Cost Competitive with Nuclear Generated Electricity

Warren Heath brought my attention yesterday to a couple of documents from the National Wind Watch. The document was a statement prepared for the Environmental Court
of New Zeeland by Bryan William Leyland,
a consulting mechanical and electrical engineer who was extremely well qualified to evaluate costs related to electrical generating systems including wind generating systems. Leyland had been retained by an party to a matter before the Environmental Court, to offer his views on the likely cost of a wind generation project in New Zeeland. Leyland had been involved in wind projects as long ago as 1980, and had consulted on a wide variety of electrical generating projects as well as serving as a consultant on an electrical shortage to the New Zeeland government.

Leyland testified about recent wind generator prices. These included the April 2008 cost of a 48 MW wind project at the Ashtabula Wind Center at North Dakota , that was priced at $121,000,000 or $2520 per KW. A project at New Richmond in Quebec in May 2008 cost $190,000,000 for 66 MWs of wind generating capacity, or $2880 per KW. Another Quebec project at St. Valentine the same month was estimated to cost $160,000,000 for a 50 MW wind array, or $3200 per KW. The Pampa Wind project in West Texas was also estimated in May of 2008 to have an expected price tag of $2720 per KW.
Leyland’s testimony reflects prices during the first half of 2008, and thus may not reflect the full impact of the economic slowdown on the current price of wind power, never-the-less it does provide us with a picture of the price of wind in the recent past. If the price of wind dropped during the last half of 2008, it is possible that the same factors would have also dropped the price of nuclear generating capacity as well. It should also be noted that the prices quoted above, did not include the price of energy/electrical storage, or electrical transmission. The projects mentioned appear to have been located in very good sites so we can assume a capacity factor of .40 or even .45. Let us assume a capacity of .45. Let us also assume 12 hour battery electrical storage. Wind systems tend to generate more electricity during off peak hours than during peak hours. Thus battery backup is essential in order for a wind system to be able to meet peak electrical demands.
Thus cost of making West Texas Wind reasonably reliable would require the doubling of generating capacity and feeding the excess generated electricity into 12 hour capacity battery storage. The battery storage for a 1 GW of reliable wind system would run @350,000,000 per hour of storage or $4.2 billion for a 12 hour storage system. In order to approach the reliability of a one GW nuclear generation facility, two GW of wind generation capacity would have to be built. One GW to provide electricity when the wind blows, and one GW to supply electricity to the battery back up system. Thus the May 2008 cost of reliable West Texas wind would be two times the cost of the systems stated capacity, or $5,440,000,000 plus another $4,200,000,000 for the batteries. The total cost of a reliable wind system would be $9,640,000,000. To this we can add the cost of an expanded electrical transmission system, between West Texas, and Texas cities like Dallas or Houston. If we compare this cost to the 2008 cost of nuclear power @ $4 to $5 billion per GW, we see that the cost of reliable wind is about double that of nuclear power. Of the two electrical systems the nuclear system would be by far more reliable and flexible. The wind system would still fail to meet summer electrical demand. Even with full redundancy and 12 hour battery backup, summer capacity factor for the system would drop to half or less or the objective of 1 GW of around the clock electricity. Further fossil fuel fired backup would have to be maintained to assure summer electrical reliability. The wind system would fall short of equaling the capacity factor of nuclear. While the winter capacity factor might approach or even exceed 100% of nameplate system capacity, the summer capacity factor would lag significantly.
Now consider a radical back up alternative. Assume that the system operators chose to back up the 1 GW wind system with nuclear power rather than a redundant wind system plus batteries. The cost of the wind system would then drop to $2.7 billion plus $5 billion for nuclear backup or $7.7 billion. Quite obviously the nuclear backup would be cheaper, but now the wind is totally redundant, because the backup system can operate full time for just the added price of fuel. Thus the purely nuclear system would simply be a lower cost than wind a reliable wind system. The nuclear system would be more reliable, and could be counted on with a fairly high degree of certainty to produce at 100% of its rated capacity during peak electrical demand summer months.
In addition current nuclear generating systems have an estimated lifetime of 60 to 80 years, while Wind generating systems last 20 to 30 years. Battery backup systems have an estimated 15 year life span. Nuclear plants undergo significant parts replacements after 40 years, but this cost far less than the cost of replacing wind turbines and storage batteries. Again the cost advantage, and indeed another decisive advantage goes to nuclear power. Clearly then wind is not cost competitive with conventional nuclear generated electricity.



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