Friday, August 15, 2008

Low-cost producer?

I wrote in an earlier post about the rising cost of coal; that market seems to have cooled off a bit in recent weeks, but then I saw an article from the Northwest Energy Coalition on the total cost of generating electricity from coal. Rapidly-rising prices for boilers, turbines, and other industrial equipment has driven up the fixed cost of large generating plants (those typically burning coal or uranium), as seen in the above chart drawn from the article. In comparison, the increase in wind turbine prices we've seen over the past several years hasn't had nearly as large of an impact on the cost of generating electricity from wind, since fixed maintenance costs haven't risen--and variable fuel costs are nonexistent.

All of these calculations ignore the potential cost of carbon regulations. A $20-per-tonne-CO2 price would add another penny to the cost of a coal kWh; the impact on natural gas generation would only be a third of a cent, while wind and nuclear would look even more attractive. Check out this brilliant spoof advertisement on the joys of coal; ironically, coal may not even be the lowest-cost option anymore!

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