Cost & Reliability Winners: Coal & Nuclear Just Keep On Keeping On

Pin satisfaction of your power demands to the weather, and expect the results to vary just like the .. ahem .. weather.

One of the paradoxes of energy generation is that the most reliable sources are the cheapest, by far.

Coal and nuclear power generation don’t need a second system like pumped hydro, mythical mega-batteries or prayers to Mother Nature in order to deliver power 24 x 365, whatever the weather. These are ‘systems’ and, by definition, systems work.

What’s depicted above is taken from Aneroid Energy and shows the entire output of every wind turbine located in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia connected to the Eastern Grid, with a combined notional capacity of 4,675 MW during January this year. Up and down like a proverbial yo-yo, by no stretch of the imagination can wind power ever be described as a ‘system’: it’s chaos.

January in Australia means hot weather, and hot weather means calm weather. As temperatures rise, so does the demand for electricity used to cool homes, businesses and hospitals. During one brief hot spell last Summer, the grid manager forced a power cut on hospitals and businesses (euphemistically referred to as ‘demand management’), when wind power output inevitably collapsed.

Whereas it defies language, logic and reason to use the words ‘wind power’, ‘reliable’ and ‘affordable’ in a sentence; coal and nuclear power are synonymous with reliability and affordability: Wind & Solar Power 2.5 to 5 Times More Expensive than Coal & Nuclear

The first article below details just how cheap coal-fired power is in Australia; the second shows how Americans depend upon coal and nuclear power to prevent them freezing to death in winter.

Love those 30 year old coal and nuclear plants — nothing gives cheaper electricity
Jo Nova Blog
Jo Nova
3 April 2018

The gold-plated stars of our national grid are the old coal plants we’ve built and paid off.

A US report shows how fantastically cheap and bountiful old coal and nuclear plants are. The LCOE or the Levelized Cost of Electricity includes the costs of the concrete, turbines, car parks and coal, plus the maintenance and salaries. It reveals that thirty year old, and even fifty year old coal plants, are the gift from past generations — enormous infrastructure, built and paid for, and ready to churn out bargain electrons. Or in crazy-land, ready to be blown up.

Look how long it takes to pay off the capital cost of building them (the red sector in the graph), and look how wonderfully cheap that electricity is from a 30 year old plant. Watch the pea. All those “investigative news stories” that compare the cost of building new coal to the cost of solar or wind are hiding the most brilliant and essential assets on our grid. Reopen Hazelwood now. (!)

Both sides of politics are choosing to destroy the family jewels in the hope of controlling global weather.

From the report by Stacy and Taylor, of the Institute for Energy Research (IER):

Most existing coal, natural gas, nuclear, and hydroelectric generation resources could continue producing electricity for decades at a far lower cost than could any potential new generation resources.

If anyone sees a 30 year old nuclear plant on ebay please call Josh Frydenberg:

These old plants just go and go

Below, see the real world data on capacity factors (this is a reflection of how well that plant keeps working as it ages). There is very little decline, and maintenance costs are small (especially compared to fixing gears and wings in giant towers in windy locations far out to sea and that break after just a few years.)

These old US plants keep kicking along for decades without a loss of capacity:

In the US, these plants keep working as they age.


Old coal plants in Australia are working at even higher capacity factors

The cheap old brown coal plants in Victoria were running at 90% capacity year in, year out. Though here, the capacity factor partly reflects pagan energy policies. The carbon tax dinted the capacity factor of brown coal in 2012-2014. The RET takes a growing bite.

In the US coal competes with nuclear plants and cheap shale gas. In Australia, nothing bar anything, competes with Victorian brown coal (at least in a free market) which is why it is run virtually flat out all the time.

Hazelwood is a national treasure.

The summary from the report:

Our findings show the sharp contrast between the high cost of electricity from new generation resources and the average low cost from the existing fleet. Existing coal-fired power plants, for example, generate reliable electricity at an LCOE-E of $38.4 per megawatt-hour on average. Compare that to the LCOE of a new coal plant, which ranges from $80.0 to $97.7 per megawatt-hour depending on how frequently the plant operates. The analysis shows the same for existing natural gas, nuclear, and hydroelectric resources—each produces electricity at a substantially lower levelized cost than its forward-looking LCOE (as estimated by EIA) would indicate.

We also find that intermittent resources increase the LCOE for conventional resources through a similar mechanism, that is, by reducing their run time without reducing their fixed costs. We refer to these as “imposed costs,” and we estimate them to be as high as $29.94 per megawatt-hour of intermittent generation when we model combined cycle natural gas energy displaced by wind.

The LCOE-E framework allows for cost comparisons that are relevant for today’s energy policymakers. For example, when all known costs are accurately included in the LCOE calculations, we find that existing coal ($38.4), nuclear ($29.6), and hydroelectric resources ($34.2) are about one-third of the cost of new wind resources ($112.8) on average


Most existing coal, natural gas, nuclear, and hydroelectric generation resources could continue producing electricity for decades at a far lower cost than could any potential new generation resources. At a coal-fired power plant, for example, when a component wears out, only the component must be replaced, not the entire plant. The same is true for nuclear plants, until they reach their regulatory end of life, which is currently defined to be 60 years but could be extended to 80.9 Under current laws, rules, and regulations, large amounts of generating capacity is slated to retire and will be replaced with new generating capacity which will produce electricity at a far higher average levelized cost. The Institute for Energy Research recently identified more than 110 GW of coal and nuclear generation capacity set to close as a direct result of federal regulations.

When electricity from an existing electric generating plant costs less to produce than the electricity from the new plant technology expected to be constructed to replace it—and yet we retire and replace the existing plant despite the higher costs—ratepayers must expect the cost of future electricity to rise faster than it would have if we had instead kept existing power plants in service. An unprecedented amount of generating capacity is set to close due to ongoing renewables policies, undervalued capacity markets, currently low natural gas prices, and additional environmental regulations. In the absence of even some of these factors, most existing power plants would remain operational, helping keep electricity costs low for many years or decades into the future.

Spot the lie by omission: studies that compare the cost of new coal plants to wind and solar.

Stacy, T. Taylor, G. (2015) The Levelized Cost of Electricity from Existing Generation Sources, Institute for Energy Research (IER), based on EIA figures in the USA.

REPORT: Coal Plants Facing Closure Prevented ‘Widespread Blackouts’ This Winter
Daily Caller
Michael Bastasch
28 March 2018

Coal-fired power plants kept the lights on for millions of Americans during January’s bomb cyclone, according to an Energy Department report warning future plant retirements could imperil grid security.

Energy analysts at DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory found that coal power kept the lights on for millions of Americans during the bomb cyclone that pummeled the eastern U.S. from late December to early January.

NETL analysts found that coal plants made up most of the incremental power utilities relied on to keep electricity flowing during the cold snap. Nuclear and oil power plants played a big role, NETL found, but coal provided 55 percent of extra power across six grid operators.

“During the worst of the storm from January 5-6, 2018, actual U.S. electricity market experience demonstrated that without the resilience of coal- and fuel oil/dual-firing plants … the eastern United States would have suffered severe electricity shortages, likely leading to widespread blackouts,” NETL researchers reported.

NETL found that “without available capacity from partially utilized coal units, PJM would have experienced shortfalls leading to interconnect-wide blackouts.” PJM Interconnection is the largest independent system operator in the U.S., serving 65 million customers.

“In PJM, the value of fuel-based power generation resilience during this event was estimated at $3.5 billion,” NETL reported. Coal power capacity retirements could mean baseload power plants that kept the lights on this winter won’t be around during a future coal snap.

Coal plants have been prematurely retired en mass since 2012, due to a combination of federal and state policies and low-priced natural gas. Republicans and the coal industry blamed Environmental Protection Agency regulations for contributing to coal plant closures, which President Donald Trump seized upon during the 2016 campaign.

“The 30 GW of coal that ramped up to meet the surge in PJM load clearly includes the units most likely to retire due to insufficient market support, given those units were not running at baseload levels before the event,” NETL reported. As more of these units retire, the ability of the system to respond to extreme events with reliance, let alone economically, deteriorates.”

Grid “resilience” has become a major issue for the Trump administration. Energy Secretary Rick Perry asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) last year to come up with a rule to financially compensate baseload power plants for reliability.

The basic concern is that competitive power markets don’t compensate power plants for their reliability. Instead, those systems favor low marginal cost power plants, generally natural gas and wind power.

Perry’s plan met intense opposition from the oil and gas industry and environmentalists, and FERC rejected Perry’s proposal in January. Despite the setback for Perry, FERC did initiate a project to define grid “resiliency” and grid operators have considered their own plans to keep coal and nuclear plants open.

NETL’s study is only the latest to highlight risks of continued power plant closures. ISO New England warned in January that continued coal, oil and nuclear plant retirements increased the risks of rolling blackouts during extreme weather.

New England has become increasingly reliant on natural gas and renewable energy, stemming from state and federal policies to shutter coal and oil power plants. However, pipeline capacity has not kept up with demand, causing supply issues and high prices.

ISO New England president Gordan van Welie said “coal and oil power plants rarely run most of the year, but they are still needed during extreme weather events. Nuclear power is also a key contributor.”

Two of the region’s four nuclear plants are set to retire in the coming years, along with coal and oil plants. More wind and solar power won’t be enough to support the grid during cold snaps, van Welie warned.

New England was so desperate for natural gas to keep the heat on it took two shipments containing liquefied natural gas from Russia.

NETL’s report says more reliable energy will need to be put onto the grid to replace retiring coal and nuclear power plants. More natural gas plants would need to be built with “equally sufficient pipeline capacity” and wind and solar power would need battery storage, NETL reported.

“At least three times as much wind is necessary to replace a coal plant during cold weather months, but wind plants cannot be ‘ramped up’ or dispatched by system operators in response to demand increases,” NETL reported.
Daily Caller

The idea that there’s some fixed mathematical relationship between the amount of wind power capacity needed to replace a MW of dispatchable coal, gas or nuclear power is nonsense.

We opened the post with reference to the fact that hot weather, means calm weather, which means no wind power, at all.

Well, the same meteorological fact applies during cold weather.

Set out below is the entire output from every wind turbine connected to the Eastern Grid, during June last year.

The Australian Winter brings large, slow-moving high-pressure systems which sit across the South-East corner of the continent, resulting in cold, calm and frosty conditions. Still weather means those virtue signallers hoping to draw their power from Mother Nature are soon vexed and disappointed.

But there’s no need to worry: in Australia there’s an old faithful coal-fired power plant chugging away somewhere in the system, keeping the lights on and preventing Granny from freezing to death; and the only casualties are the bruised egos of a few self-righteous, renewable energy zealots. Oh dear, how sad, never mind.

About stopthesethings

We are a group of citizens concerned about the rapid spread of industrial wind power generation installations across Australia.


  1. Reblogged this on UPPER SONACHAN WIND FARM.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: