Solar Scores a Big Win Over Nuclear

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This article originally appeared on April 29, 2013, on Real Money. To read more content like this + see inside Jim Cramer's multi-million dollar portfolio for FREE. Click Here NOW.

The debate over costs is over. Solar power won. Nuclear power lost. If your utility wants to own a new power plant, a utility-grade solar farm is a better deal than a new nuclear power plant. Perhaps that's why Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway is building the world's largest solar farm and not a new nuclear power plant.

Berkshire is building a massive utility-grade solar power facility, using off-the-shelf photovoltaic (PV) technology. Berkshire subsidiary MidAmerican Solar will own the facility, which is called the Antelope Valley Solar Projects. SunPower designed and developed the project and will provide operations and maintenance services for the plants via a multiyear services agreement. Antelope Valley will provide renewable energy to Edison International's Southern California Edison under two long-term power purchase contracts.

To put Berkshire's newest investment in perspective, Antelope Valley is bigger than some nuclear power plants. With a nameplate rating of 579-megawatts, Antelope Valley is larger than Omaha Public Power's Fort Calhoun Station, NextEra Energy's Point Beach Nuclear Plant (unit 1), Xcel Energy's Prairie Island Nuclear Generating units, Xcel's Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant and Dominion Resources' defunct Kewaunee Power Station. Antelope Valley is about the same size as NextEra's Point Beach (unit 2), Exelon's Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station and Entergy's Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station.

Berkshire's costs are striking. Compared with a new nuclear power plant, Antelope Valley is a bargain. On capital expense, operating costs and levelized costs, solar is a better investment. Here are the numbers:

  • Nuclear: capex, $6 million per megawatt; production costs, $22 per megawatt-hour.
  • Solar: capex, $4 million per megawatt; production costs, $0 per megawatt-hour.

There is growing evidence that new nuclear power's "all-in" costs will be greater than $6 million per megawatt. There is also evidence their production costs are lower than the Nuclear Energy Institute's $22 per megawatt-hour.

Others argue that solar's capex has fallen below $4 million per megawatt. They also may want to add a dollar or two for production costs.