NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 15, 2009

Kittitas County, Washington, is experiencing sticker shock for a proposed 75 megawatt solar power plant as the true cost of solar power is coming in at more than three times the promised price, says H. Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis.

  • On July 9, Howard Trott, managing director of Teanaway Solar Reserve, the company proposing the plant, estimated it would cost approximately $100 million to build what would be the largest solar power plant in the world.
  • By mid-August, Teanaway revised its estimate to more than $300 million, and other analysts fear the final cost may be much higher still.
  • Based on calculations by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, the price tag of the Teanaway solar power plant would be a minimum of $525 million and could rise as high as $750 million.

The council was established by Congress in 1980 to develop a regionwide electric power plan to guarantee adequate, reliable energy at the lowest economic cost while protecting environmental resources.

Solar power is an expensive alternative source of energy, says Burnett:

  • Solar power currently costs three-and-a-half to four times the price of conventional power purchased on the spot market.
  • When stripped of subsidies and preferential tax treatment, moreover, solar power is between 570 percent and 887 percent more expensive to produce than coal power, according to a recent study by Tufts University economics professor Gilbert Metcalf.
  • Adding to the costs of solar power is the fact that solar panels deliver direct current, while the Northwest power grid uses alternating current.
  • Converting from direct to alternating current boosts costs, and power is lost in the process; Trott estimates the loss would be about 2 percent but could be higher.
  • In addition, power from solar plants fluctuates with the intensity and amount of sunlight and passing clouds, so the Northwest power grid will have to be upgraded to adjust for such fluctuations.

Source: H. Sterling Burnett, "Solar Sticker Shock Hits Washington County," Heartland Institute, November 1, 2009.


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