Sunshine Might Be Free But Solar Power is Not Cheap

Mississippi residents are consistently told that renewable energy sources, like solar panels, are now the lowest-cost ways to generate electricity, but these claims are based on creative accounting gimmicks that only examine a small portion of the expenses incurred to integrate solar onto the grid while excluding many others.

When these hidden expenses are accounted for, it becomes obvious that solar is much more expensive than Mississippi’s existing coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants and that adding more solar will increase electricity prices for the families and businesses that rely upon it. One of the most common ways of estimating the cost of generating electricity from different types of power plants is a metric called the Levelized Cost of Energy, or LCOE.

The LCOE is an estimate of the long-term average cost of producing electricity from a power plant. These values are estimated by taking the costs of the plant, such as the money needed to build and operate it, fuel costs, and the cost to borrow money, and dividing them by the amount of electricity generated by the plant (generally megawatt hours) over its useful lifetime.

In other words, LCOE estimates are essentially like calculating the cost of your car on a per-mile-driven basis after accounting for expenses like initial capital investment, loan and insurance payments, fuel costs, and maintenance.

We can estimate the LCOE of new solar facilities in Mississippi by using overnight capital cost estimates from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) Electricity Market Module and other state-specific factors. We can then compare the cost of solar to the real-world cost data for the coal and natural gas generators at the Victor J. Daniel Jr. Generating Plant, and the Grand Gulf nuclear power plant using the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Form 1 database.

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