Solar Scores a Big Win Over Nuclear

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 ( BRK.A) 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 ( SPWR) 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 ( EIX) 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 ( NEE) Point Beach Nuclear Plant (unit 1), Xcel Energy's ( XEL) Prairie Island Nuclear Generating units, Xcel's Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant and Dominion Resources' ( D) defunct Kewaunee Power Station. Antelope Valley is about the same size as NextEra's Point Beach (unit 2), Exelon's ( EXC) Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station and Entergy's ( ETR) 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.

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