Solar Over Nuclear

RECEIVED Mon., March 2, 2009

Dear Editor,
    Dr. Robert Duncan sent a recent letter attacking the proposed photovoltaic plant at Webberville [“Postmarks” online, Feb. 24]. He ought to get his facts straight or put them in context.
    First, readers should know that Robert Duncan (not to be confused with Roger Duncan, director of Austin Energy) has spoken at several public meetings advocating nuclear power. He may be Austin's most animated (perhaps only) pro-nuclear activist at this moment in the city's history.
    Duncan stated the photovoltaic plant will only produce 6 to 6.9 average megawatts of its 30 megawatt peak rating (20% to 23% capacity). You can make the same argument about a natural gas peaking plant, which has an even lower capacity factor. Since this PV plant uses single-axis tracking collectors, the plant will provide about 60% of its rated power to defer peak capacity. This is based on Austin Energy's "Value of Solar" study, completed in 2006.
    His statement that the PV will cause a rate increase should be put in context. People's bills will go up marginally. But people's bills will also go up because of the new gas plants Austin Energy plans to build in 2009 and 2013. These plants will cost an estimated $225 million upfront and about $76 million a year to own and operate.
    I did an analysis comparing a range of costs for fuel and operating hours. The lifetime average cost of the solar plant is in line with the cost of a new gas peaking plant. And solar is only slightly higher when you combine peak with intermediate power from these new plants. These costs do not consider environmental effects.
    Duncan is upset that the PVs are made in China, which does not add to U.S. employment. But the majority of the jobs created from the solar plant will be domestic. A 2008 analysis by Barclays Capital Research concluded 75% of jobs related to PVs were from installation; only 14% were from manufacturing.
    And he is correct that the PV plant will only cause a minor reduction in greenhouse emissions. But no one claimed otherwise. The city has been making incremental progress in clean energy for 27 years. About 16% of its electricity has been deferred with energy efficiency or is provided by renewables. I wish it were much more. But we need more increments, not less.
Sincerely,
Paul Robbins
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