Solar electricity has become cheaper than juice from new nuclear power plants in
North Carolina, and will be far less expensive before nukes could be built. That’s according to a new report by the former chancellor of Duke University and emeritus chair of its economics
department, who also said power companies are rejecting solar energy that’s priced below what new
nuclear power would cost.
Moreover, he said, nuclear utilities are seeking additional, massive public
subsidies and additional transfer of financial risks to electricity customers and taxpayers.
“North Carolina should be leading, not lagging, in the transition to clean energy,” Dr. John
Blackburn said during a press briefing last month. “We call on Governor Perdue and state agencies to
see that a very important turning point has been reached, and act accordingly.”
He explained that
the fast-growing worldwide solar industry is poised to bring thousands of manufacturing and
installation jobs to North Carolina if the utilities will stop impeding its development.
Clean energy proponents have long awaited the day when solar and nuclear prices cross. Solar
photovoltaic and hot water system costs have fallen steadily for years, and are projected to fall even
more over the next 10 years due to manufacturing and installation advances.Meanwhile, design
problems and rising cost estimates have led to delays and cancellations of U.S. nuclear projects.
The report explains that states with open competition for electricity sales are rejecting the nuclear
gamble in favor of the combined economic and environmental benefits of solar, wind, cogeneration
and energy efficiency; at least 20 states are ahead of North Carolina in developing clean energy. By
contrast, the report shows, states with monopoly power markets are the ones still proposing to build
new nuclear plants--with each project absorbing billions of public dollars.
Blackburn produced an “apples to apples” cost comparison, net of incentives for both
technologies, based on interviews with solar installers across the state and published reports of solar
trends and cost estimates to build nuclear plants. His report includes “rooftop” solar photovoltaic
systems for homes and businesses, along with large solar “farm” installations.
“This state should place a cost cap on new nuclear power--and remove the one on solar,” added
Blackburn, referring to legislation in 2007 restricting rate increases for solar energy while requiring
that 0.2% of all utility sales be solar power. Solar installers and advocates have complained for
months that the utilities are doing the bare minimum on renewables and energy efficiency so they can
keep arguing for the need to build nuclear plants.
The economist, who has analyzed energy issues since the mid-1970s, produced the report for clean
energy nonprofit NC WARN. It was co-authored by Sam Cunningham, a masters candidate at the
Duke University Nicholas School for the Environment. The authors emphasize that solar prices
should be compared to new nuclear plant costs, and that electric rates will rise much less with a clean-
“We are asking the Governor to take the leadership in creating the new solar economy,” said NC
WARN attorney John Runkle today. “The biggest barriers to solar electricity are the electric
utilities, and if they begin construction on nuclear plants, our electricity rates will skyrocket and
our solar industry will continue to be impeded.”
The solar-nuclear report is available at the link below.