RALEIGH– There’s no contest in the cost comparison between nuclear and solar power: Nuclear power is a much cheaper option. A new Spotlight report from the John Locke Foundation and Istituto Bruno Leoni delivers that message while debunking an “absurd” study from a North Carolina-based anti-nukes group.
“The North Carolina Waste Awareness Network’s study argues that solar power today is less expensive than nuclear power, but NC WARN’s work is riddled with so many flaws that its conclusions are useless,” said Daren Bakst, JLF Director of Legal and Regulatory Studies and co-author of the new Spotlight. “Our review picks apart the many ways in which NC WARN ignored, slanted, and abused data to prop up its otherwise unsupportable claims.”
NC WARN’s original study attracted attention from The New York Times, which led to additional media coverage in publications as far away as Italy. That widespread coverage prompted Bakst and Carlo Stagnaro of the Istituto Bruno Leoni in Turin, Italy, to conduct a detailed analysis of NC WARN’s findings.
Bakst and Stagnaro discovered research that was “deeply flawed,” according to their joint Spotlight report. “The most glaring problem with NC WARN’s report is its use of subsidies in calculating electricity costs,” Bakst said. “NC WARN treated energy subsidies arbitrarily, including them for solar power to calculate a lower cost for consumers but ignoring subsidies with respect to nuclear power.”
A reliance on subsidies undermines NC WARN’s entire report, Bakst said. “First, NC WARN calculates solar power’s actual cost at 35 cents per kilowatt-hour, then applies state and federal tax credit subsidies to lower that cost to less than 16 cents per kWh.”
There’s a huge problem with that approach, Bakst said. “Subsidies may reduce the price to consumers, but they do not reduce the cost of generating electricity,” he said. “Otherwise, you could boost the tax credit to 100 percent and then claim that the generation of solar power is completely free.”
Even if it made sense to apply subsidies to its cost calculations, NC WARN treats solar and nuclear power differently, Bakst said. “NC WARN never indicates how subsidies reduce the cost of nuclear power in the same manner as solar power,” he said. “In other words, the report unfairly gives solar power the ‘benefit’ of subsidies while denying that benefit to nuclear power.”
NC WARN’s cost estimates are also wildly inconsistent with reliable sources, Bakst said. “The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that new solar power costs more than three times as much as nuclear power,” he said. “A source that NC WARN heavily relies on acknowledges that solar is not cost-competitive and that several studies find solar power to be two to five times as expensive as nuclear power.”
NC WARN also gives the false impression that there is a choice between solar power and nuclear power, Bakst said. “Because the sun cannot shine on demand — at night and on cloudy days, for instance — it is an intermittent and unpredictable source of energy,” he said. “Regardless of whether solar power is used, there’s still a need for conventional sources of electricity such as nuclear power.”
One of the more confusing assumptions in NC WARN’s analysis is utility companies’ response to costs, Bakst said. “NC WARN tries to make the case that utilities want to hang on to nuclear power to avoid solar power, even at their own expense,” he said. “If solar power really were less expensive than nuclear power, utility companies would jump at the opportunity to install solar power to the electricity grid — especially since a misguided North Carolina law mandates that they use renewable energy.”
Speaking of costs, Bakst questions NC WARN’s commitment to supporting sources of low-cost, reliable electricity. “If NC WARN truly is concerned about costs, there should be no reason for the group not to promote the lowest-cost electricity sources, such as coal and natural gas.”
The public and policymakers are poorly served by “extreme and unsupported claims made by anti-nuclear power advocacy groups,” Bakst said. “It would be fair to say that there are questions regarding the cost of nuclear power, but that does not change the fact that nuclear power is far less expensive and much more reliable than solar power.”
“Maybe some day solar power will be cost-competitive with nuclear power,” Bakst added. “Until that day, policymakers should not force solar power into the electricity mix at the expense of low-cost, reliable electricity.”
Daren Bakst and Carlo Stagnaro’s Spotlight report, “Costs of Nuclear Vs. Solar Power: It’s No Contest,” is available at the JLF Web site. For more information, please contact Bakst at (919) 828-3876 or [email protected]. To arrange an interview, contact Mitch Kokai at (919) 306-8736 or [email protected].