Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

What Costs Less than Renewables?

By George Harvey

People with conventional ideas about renewable power seem to cling to the notion that they are expensive. Such ideas are flat-out wrong. The time has come when renewable power is less expensive than nuclear and fossil fuels.

Green Energy Times has already published articles saying that in many places ordinary people can get power from their own solar PVs less expensively than by buying it from utilities. Now we see the same sort of price changes expanding to other parts of the market.

Reviewing the trends of power over the past year, we find that power from natural gas is being supplied in long-term contracts for prices as low as $45 per MWh, though it would take $60 to justify building a new plant. This is a killer for nuclear, and was cited as one of the reasons the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant is being shut down.

By comparison, the lowest price for long-term contracts for wind power from Texas wind farms is about $25 per MWh, with contracts regularly being signed at below $30. Take away Federal incentives, and it would be about $50. This is already too low for new natural gas plants to be competitive, but future projections make it even harder. The fields of fracked gas are seeing huge declines in productivity, in some cases nearly 50% per year, so the price of natural gas is very likely to increase sharply, but the price of windpower is expected to continue its decline, as new technology makes turbines more efficient.

The price of solar power is also going down so far that solar can compete in many places on an even footing, not only with nuclear and coal, but natural gas as well. Late last December, in a Minnesota court case, a set of solar installations was chosen over natural gas based on the price of power. This was done in a direct, official comparison, without subsidies from the state or federal governments. It was the first time such a comparison decided in favor of solar, but it will probably not be the last. Again, this is because the costs of renewables are going down while those of nuclear and fossil fuels are going up.

So to answer our headline question, we are now finding a clear answer: “Nothing costs less than renewables.” And this is as it should be, because the sunshine and wind are free.

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