[If readers have other good sources and citations for electricity costs, please put them in the comments.]
I have known the New York Times energy reporter, Matt Wald, for 15 years, and generally think he is pretty good. But he has published perhaps the most flawed, inaccurate, and indefensible article in his career.
Wald’s piece could also be a poster child for award-winning journalist Eric Pooley’s searing critique of the media’s coverage of climate economics (see How the press bungles its coverage of climate economics — “The media’s decision to play the stenographer role helped opponents of climate action stifle progress”).
And, amazingly, as we will see, a report by one of Wald’s two industry sources completely disagrees with the report by the other industry group Wald cites! In fact, new Concentrated solar thermal power Solar Baseload is already competitive with new gas-fired generation and likely to have better economics in 2015.
The first flaw is that Wald completely ignores the lowest cost electricity strategy — energy efficiency — even though the article’s headline is “Cost Works Against Alternative and Renewable Energy Sources in Time of Recession,” and a major point of the piece is that “Curbing carbon dioxide emissions — a central part of tackling climate change — will almost certainly raise electricity prices, experts say.”
Wald never tells the reader that until the economic collapse, traditional sources of power have been rising much faster in cost than alternatives (see “Power plants costs double since 2000 — Efficiency anyone?“). He also never mentions that efficiency, which costs two cents to four cents a kilowatt hour (not counting ancillary benefits, including no need for new transmission), is the only new source of power that is both pollution free and far cheaper than current electricity rates (see “Efficiency, Part 3: The only cheap power left“).
The media simply needs to start talking more about electricity bills, which encompassses, efficient use of energy, than electricity rates.
Second, just as Pooley specifically warns against, Wald only cites industry sources for cost — and, surprise, surprise, they have absurd and indefensible numbers. Indeed, the clearest evidence article of bias is the utterly insupportable cost estimate for nuclear power Wald cites from a Black & Veatch study, “a new nuclear reactor, 10.8 cents.”
Matt, say it ain’t so. Let’s be clear here. That number is beyond unsupportable. There is not a utility or nuclear power plant provider in the country who would guarantee 10.8 cents/kwh in a Public Utility Commission (PUC) hearing. You would have trouble finding one that would guarantee twice that rate in year one of operation.
Let’s remember that “Turkey’s only bidder for first nuclear plant offers a price of 21 cents per kilowatt-hour.” Moody’s — a far less biased source than Wald cites — puts new nuclear at over 15 c/kwh (see here). Earlier this year, Time wrote “new nuclear energy is on track to cost 15¢ to 20¢ per kilowatt-hour,” and I published a detailed cost study this year that put it at 25 to 30 c/kwh (see “Exclusive analysis, Part 1: The staggering cost of new nuclear power“).