Solar Power

New Proposed Nevada Solar Power Plant Would Cost Six Times More Than the Hoover Dam

While supposedly delivering about the same amount of electricity.


Wikimedia Commons

A new solar plant that would supply as much electricity as the Hoover Dam is being proposed for Nevada, was hailed in a report on NPR's Morning Edition today. The plant would also store heat in the form of molten salt so that it could produce power at night and on cloudy days. The cost? The NPR reporter did not blink an eye when told it would cost a mere $5 billion to build.

So how much did the Hoover Dam cost to build? According to a 2010 Public Radio Media program Marketplace, it cost a $49 million in the 1930s, which is worth under $750 million today. In other words, the new solar power plant would cost in today's dollars more than six times what it cost to complete the Hoover Dam.

University of California energy professor Daniel Kammen told Marketplace that the Hoover Dam was a visionary public/private partnership. "That was essentially a government-designed vision, and it found partners in the private sector, and partners in the developers of many big cities in the southwest,' he said. "So that tied together an energy plan and a development plan."

Private/public partnerships have evidently gotten at lot more expensive of the past 80 years.

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  1. Five billion is a bargain compared to what it will really cost when it’s done.

    1. If you are referring to the maintenance costs of these boondoggles, then you are exactly right.

      Of course what is not discussed when something has become entrenched in the minds of the herd of dolts is the fact that, regardless of cost, solar and wind simply do not and cannot work relevant to any other form of energy.

      They are both diffused energy sources which means that even if you had adequate battery storage, the very source of the energy does not provide enough concentrated energy to power any large swatch of the energy need of humans. That is why wind and solar are 100% subsidized.

      Wind farms have been around since WWII and they have all been decommissioned in due time. The amount of misallocated capital going towards this crap is criminal.

      I guess that makes me a denier because I understand economics.

      1. I realizd as far back as 1977 that the radical environmentalist movement would never, ever, back any energy source that had any chance of being practical.

        1. That’s why radical environmentalists are behind anything to reduce human population or force humans to use less energy.

  2. If the estimate is $5 billion, that means the actual cost would be at least $20 billion. And it’ll last what, 10, 20 years?

    Sounds like a great investment.

    1. And ultimately supply power to literally tens of homes across the Nevada desert.

      1. It would be fun if the $5 billion estimate doesn’t even cover transmission.

      2. Paul, you just gave me my best chuckle of the day.

    2. And it’ll last what, 10, 20 years?

      ^ This. Last I checked, Hoover Dam is still there . . .

      1. Hoover Dam didn’t require daily dusting of its mirrors lest they lose effectiveness nor does it have anywhere near as many moving parts.

  3. Superprojects (over $1B) have a 10% chance of coming on on budget. A 10% chance of being done on time. A 10% chance of delivering what was promised.

    As these turn out to be (mostly) independent variables, it means about 1 in 1000 of hitting all three.

    1. There is little to no difference in these stats for public, private, of pub/priv.

        1. Doing my best Eddie immitation here.

        2. Example:
          From its original total cost estimate of about US$400 million, the telescope had by now cost over $2.5 billion to construct. Hubble’s cumulative costs were estimated to be about US$10 billion in 2010, twenty years after launch.

          1. It also didnt (originally) deliver as promised.

            I dont know about schedule.

            1. It was originally scheduled to launch in October of 1986, but was pushed back to 1990 after Challenger.

              1. Which puts it in the 73% that miss on all 3 (.9^3).

              2. Which puts it in the 73% that miss on all 3 (.9^3).

              3. It was myopic. Literally.

                1. They fixed it with basically a giant monocle. LIBERTARIAN MOMENT

                  1. SPACE LIBERTARIAN MOMENT!!!!

                    1. We were luck it was accessible via the shuttle. If something goes wrong with James Webb then it just stays broken.

    2. In the industry we call this a WAG (Wild Ass Guess).

      On a project that size, statistical estimating is the only method available, and you just don’t/can’t have reliable statistics on the kinds of things that are so expensive you only build maybe one a century.

      Plus, when your budget is that big, everyone’s attitude towards the money gets a little surreal, and everyone is shocked when 50% into your schedule you’ve already blown 90% of your budget, since your budget seemed infinite when you started.

  4. Reason is missing a few zeroes. 5 billion buys you a 4 lane bridge over Lake Washington.

  5. The one in So Cal is famous for toasting birds in flight.
    And a recent article suggested that even by greeny standards it was a net loss; the GH gases released during construction wouldn’t be offset during its expected life.
    But they meant well…

    1. Trying to figure out the energy inputs is non-trivial, but there’s plenty of evidence that the EROI on these types of alt-energy projects is way less than the proponents suggest.

      1. This is because often people go into these projects not understanding the difference between the “nominal” output advertised for the system, and the actual output, which is about 2/3 of nominal. In my experience with solar panels, which is a few years back now, the “pays for itself” argument is based on the nominal, not the actual, output. Add that to the maintenance required to keep even the 2/3-of-nominal rate and you’ve got a real turkey on your hands.

        A school district I worked for got hosed on that one pretty badly about 7-8 years ago.

    2. I flew right over it this summer. Blinded for about 5 minutes.


      2. Were your arms tired?

        1. He was a human cannonball.

      3. Were you wrapped up as well, kind of like a rumor in the night?

    3. That was my first thought: this is gonna kill a lot of birds, and I would not want to be in a plane flying over or near it.

      1. Did everyone just join the fucking Audubon Society or something?

        1. ^ I spit out my coffee

        2. Whenever wind or solar power comes up, everyone suddenly is all concerned about the birds.

          1. No. Whenever wind or solar power are brought up, suddenly scads of people who have been de-freaking-lighted to use the presence of reare birds as an excuse to block construction of which they disapprove go silent as the grave.

            1. Sounds just like the people who protested Bush’s bombing of random residents of the ME countries fell silent as the grave as soon as Obama took over the bombing runs.

              Wonder if there’s any connection between these groups…

          2. It’s not sudden, it’s just an obvious consequence.

        3. Hell, no! I loved roasted fowl.

          1. It’s roasted for the first .4 seconds. After that, it’s smoked. And the blackened.

            1. ” the new solar power plant would cost in today’s dollars more than six times what it cost to complete the Hoover Dam.”

              The Hoover Dam can’t vaporize birds. It’s a feature, not a bug

      2. Proggies already have an explanation for bird deaths-CATS! Some places are even considering laws to keep kitties indoors. They also blame lights left on in buildings, but never solar and wind plants.

        1. It’s true. Cats took care of the songbird problem in my neighborhood.

      3. So is this a better or worse use of money than building a new football stadium that kills the birds via spinal dislocation?

    4. “But they meant well…”

      Is there really any evidence, other than the assertions of partisan witnesses, that this is so?

  6. So I’m thinking it’s going to end up not producing the same amount of power as the Hoover Dam. How badly it will miss that target is up to debate.

    1. Hoover Dam doesn’t produce as much power as Hoover Dam. New environmental regulations.

  7. But given the jobs creation-carbon reduction-feelz its win-win-win.

    1. Exactly. Whether it actually generates power is beside the point.

  8. According to a 2010 Public Radio Media program Marketplace, it cost a $49 million in the 1930s, which is worth under $750 million today. In other words, the new solar power plant would cost in today’s dollars more than six times what it cost to complete the Hoover Dam.

    The Hoover Dam was built almost entirely by WHITE MEN. Coincidence? You tell me.

    1. Why did they name it after a vacuum cleaner?

      1. ‘Cause it sucks????
        What did I win?

      2. They named it after a vacuum cleaner because Boss Hoover was a great WHITE MAN.

  9. Aren’t these plants the ones killing birds by the thousands and blinding airplane pilots?

    1. …and what will visitors to Area 51 say about the site selection.

  10. This would be an excellent time to look at how the other massive solar plant in the area if faring, the Ivanpah solar plant.

    “The unconventional solar-thermal project, financed with $1.5 billion in federal loans, has riled environmentalists by killing thousands of birds, many of which are burned to death?and has so far failed to produce the expected power.

    . . .

    PG&E is asking the California Public Utilities Commission for permission to overlook the shortfall and give Ivanpah another year to sort out its problems, warning that allowing its power contracts to default could force the facility to shut down.

    . . .

    Power from the two Ivanpah units that serve PG&E last year fetched about $200 a megawatt-hour on average during summer months, and about $135 a megawatt-hour on average the rest of the year, according to sales data from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

    That compares to an average price of $57 a megawatt-hour for solar power sold under contracts signed in 2015, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Power from natural-gas plants went for $35 a megawatt-hour on average in California’s wholesale market last year.

    The portion of the Ivanpah plant that supplies PG&E in 2014 generated 45% of the electricity the state commission expected under the power contracts, and 68% in 2015, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of federal data and state documents.

    “Ivanpah Solar Plant May Be Forced to Shut Down”
    Wall Street Journal

    1. Ken, stop hating the earth and the Correct Science. Don’t you realize Global Warming Climate Change is causing Blacks to kill everyone? Why do you hate everyone? Why are you forcing Blacks to kill people!?

    2. Solar power is more expensive in the summer?

      Wow, they REALLY fucked up.

      1. The sun is farther away but the light more direct.

        1. The peanuts are smaller but you eat more of them.

      2. They have to use gas to fire up the turbines.

        At one point, they were burning more energy in gas to fire up the turbines in the morning than they were generating with solar panels during the day.

        1. I’m guessing that gas burning doesn’t get counted against them when counting carbon credits.

        2. Take in this tidbit:

          “Ivanpah uses natural gas as a supplementary fuel, and data from the California Energy Commission show the plant burned enough of it in 2014 ? its first year of operation ? to emit more than 46,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide.

          That’s nearly twice the pollution threshold at which power plants and factories in California are required to participate in the state’s cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon emissions.

          The same amount of natural gas burned at a conventional power plant would have produced enough electricity to meet the annual needs of 17,000 California homes ? roughly a quarter of the Ivanpah plant’s total electricity projection for 2014.

          —-Orange County Register


          1. Can you imagine the student loan dollars the went into the thongs of enviro-whackos and bureaucrats that allocated, approved, and worked on these boondoggles? The amount of waste is actually organic in total wasted human capital that are and have been trained to believe all of this shit.

    3. There are actually 3 towers at Ivanpah, not 2. The third tower caught fire after one of the mirrors misaligned.…..olar-plant

      1. Incredible

      2. “Further complicating matters, the project’s Unit 2 tower is also currently offline for maintenance unrelated to the fire ? meaning the 392 MW Ivanpah plant is running at about one-third of its capacity.”

        Solar is so reliable!

  11. I wonder how many tons of Gaia-raping blood minerals we have to exploit to put together a solar-electric plant that size?

    1. I don’t think it’s a PV thing, so not as much as it might be I guess.

      Maybe North Korea should build one and use it for executions.

      1. That does sound metal.

  12. So, I guess those reflector solar things are expensive and inefficient. I’m slightly disappointed because they are really cool. Some evil billionaire who hates birds should build some just for fun.

      1. Pretty much. But lots and lots of them in an interesting pattern heating up salt until it melts and glows is pretty cool.

  13. Open your eyes, people, and see this for what it really is: A laser generator massive enough to do what man has dreamed of doing since first looking up into the heavens: Destroy the moon.

    1. About fucking time too.

      1. If the Saiyans get here first, we’re screwed.

    2. Exactly fist. I would have some respect for these guys if this was actually just the end of Spies Like Us.

    3. Chairface Chippendale will have the last laugh!

  14. Oh goody, so for the mere cost of $40 per taxpayer to guarantee their loans we can get the privilege of having more money taken from us later to cover “TOTALLY UNEXPECTED we swear guys” expenses, before eventually getting zero rewards for our investment as the finished plant sells green energy at twice the price of actual energy, like with this group’s last project?

  15. In all fairness, while you can adjust the price of the Hoover Dam for inflation, you also have to recognize that real wages were lower in the 1930s than they are today. A quick Google search shows that workers on the Hoover Dam project were paid hourly between $0.50 (for a basic laborer) to $1.25 (for the most skilled laborers). Adjusted for inflation that range is $9-$23, but you would never be able to employ laborers (especially skilled) to do that kind of work today in that range. The Hoover Dam was a labor intensive project, which in the 1930s was a feature. (Same as how China can build dams cheaper than we can thanks to cheap abundant labor). I don’t know if it really makes sense to compare the construction costs for large projects undertaken during the Great Depression vs large projects undertaken today.

    1. An even bigger cost increase: regulations.

      I doubt that another hydroelectric damn will ever be built in this country again.

      1. Dams are pretty much off the list of considerations. Too many externalities. Snail Darter, salmon runs, Abu Simbel, eminent domain. I still don’t get the anti-nuke stuff. Leftie fellow-travelers in France and Germany are fine with it but in America and England it’s horror.

      2. I do wonder how many workers bones are part of the concrete at Hoover Dam. I know the answer must be greater than 0, and I’m pretty sure no one had fucks to give about that at the time.

        1. The explanation for why there aren’t any bodies in the dam given here makes sense:…..fatal.html

          1. I appreciate that, and yeah a man-sized cavity in a structure holding back…I don’t even know or care…how much water is a pretty massive flaw now that I think about it for a nanosecond.

    2. You can get very skilled and valuable labor for $20-$23 per hour without Davis Bacon union scum laws. .

      1. If you can find experienced combo welders at that rate, I know several firms who would like you to recruit for them.

        1. He’s maybe exaggerating slightly – you can get a decent carpenter in the private sector in CA for $23/hr. Run that same guy through Davis-Bacon and you double what he takes home, but he costs about $100/hr.

          Apply that across the scale and you get “Prevailing Wage Rates” for public projects.

        2. For earth moving and basic carpentry in the Southeast, you can still get good labor that is happy to take home that pay. That is why what is left of vibrant industry is all moving to the southeast. That and right to work.
          Welding, pipe-fitting and other more specialized is higher but not out of the ball park from these numbers.
          California and the northeast are extremely expensive. That is why everyone is leaving and that is what those areas of the country deserve.

      2. ^ This.

      3. Maybe. And that’s a big maybe. But the Hoover Dam project paid electricians, pipefitters, skilled carpenters etc 75 cents per hour – which inflated from 1930 is $10.76…no way you could do that now. Only a few very specialized workers made the big bucks at $1.25/hour.…..wages.html

    3. I’ve been living under the assumption you get equivalent labor for cheaper due to improvements in mechanical technology.

      1. The Hoover Dam was built with depression era wages. It was a time when you could just throw cheap labor at a problem until it was solved. You can’t do that anymore.

        1. Hoover Dam was built with prevailing wage law under Davis-Bacon. I’m not sure that was an example of throwing cheap labor at a work project.

    4. So you are saying the official inflation numbers are not accurate?

      How could that be, the government couldn’t possibly have any reason to intentionally misrepresent inflation

      1. No, I’m saying that real wages have risen faster than inflation, which is why we all can afford to buy more stuff now than we could in 1930.

        1. and the reason real wages have risen faster than inflation?

          Oh right productivity increases that make 1 laborer today able to do the work of a half dozen or more in 1930

          So yeah, each worker back then was earning $0.75 but each worker today is taking the salary of 4 or 5 of those workers and so that still works out to somewhere around $50 an hour

          1. Agreed. But it’s not a 1:1 relationship. Large projects like this were simply cheaper back then, as they are cheaper in China and other developing countries now, largely because of cheap labor (and regulations, of course, but it’s not all because of regulations.)

  16. That was essentially a government-designed vision, and it found partners in the private sector, and partners in the developers of many big cities in the southwest

    We call that crony capitalism. Unless you’re a principled libertarian, it’s viewed as good when it favors industries you like and one of the greatest injustices in the world when it favors industries you despise.

  17. The fact that the government is involved means it will be an economic disaster. If it had any chance of living up to stated expectations, private investment would foot the bill.

    1. When economics are unfavorable, it’s a market failure.

  18. There is literally a zero percent chance that this facility will produce the amount of power they estimate. I can’t think of a single one that’s ever met it’s promises.

    They would be better off using that money to subsidize placing a solar panel on every roof in the suburbs as an ancillary unit than building one giant fuck off array in the middle of nowhere.

    I do wonder though, since this is likely in good ol’ Harry Reid’s area (not sure of that fact, but 50/50 shot right?) will it be built entirely by China? I would guess the answer to that question is ‘yes’, but it’s probably hidden in the fine print somewhere.

    Solar energy is a con as a primary means of production, and a massive waste of resources to try. Those who say ‘why not build it and find out’ ignore the massive amounts of materials that go directly into the manufacture of these panels. Probably because the people who are ‘for’ this kind of thing never bother to think. Not even for a second. As long as China is the one who’s releasing all the greenhouse gasses and mining god knows how deep to find the materials, American’s don’t give a shit. It’s the ultimate in self-fellating NIMBYism.

    1. “They would be better off using that money to subsidize placing a solar panel on every roof in the suburbs as an ancillary unit than building one giant fuck off array in the middle of nowhere.”

      Not to mention that $5 billion would be a pretty good down-payment on the development of a prototype Solar Power Sattelite. The one Solar technology actually capable in theory of meeting a significant portion of our energy needs

      1. True, but I’m guessing they would be transmitting said power down to Earth as microwaves? At least I’ve seen one design put forward with that idea. Personally, that sounds like a terrible idea for a whole lot of reasons. Out in space, you do get close to what you’re supposed to get out of solar energy though. No atmospheric diffraction or absorption.

        1. Yes, microwave the power back down to earth, they did a lot of work on the design in the 70’s and it is a totally feasible system, we’ve just lacked the low cost to orbit systems that are coming on line now to make it cost effective.


          1. That’s probably the one I’m thinking of. Still, I don’t know how great of idea it really is. Orbital debris is already a problem that’s only getting worse, and the threat to a huge solar array that poses is obvious.

            Thanks, China, for being smart enough to shoot missiles into space but stupid enough to use them to blow up satellites.

    2. this one sounds like another massive setup of mirrors focused for heat. no PVs in this one. but PVs fail. i’m assuming mirrors need to be cleaned but only fail when a crispy bird carcass shatters it.

      1. Or the aiming motors fail or a windstorm (not like they ever get those in the desert) scratches it to hell

      2. “mirrors need to be cleaned”

        Better stock up on lots of Windex.

        1. Better go long on Windex stock.

  19. In comparison, how much power generation could you get by spending $5 billion on a new nuclear power plant?

    1. After the litigation, not much?

  20. BYODB, your comment brings up a good name for this project:


    (your tax dollars at work)

    1. I’d be fine with putting his name on it, if he’s strapped to the focal point of the mirrors when they focus them.

  21. My monthly NV Energy bill already exceeds $400 in the summer. So this will help reduce my bill – right?

    1. Yes your bill will be reduced because the reliability of your electric service will also be reduced so that you only have power about three hours a day.

      1. Well as long as the strip has power

  22. One is a dam, and the other is a solar power plant. Is there another dam that could be built there instead? But at least it’s intent is to draw private investment…something you’re not seeing in regard to nuclear energy.

    1. Your contention that the price of nuclear energy has anything to do with the free market is pathetic Jack. The idea that you give a single shit about private investment is equally laughable. It’s a way to siphon money from the government, and for people in government to reward their crony’s, nothing more and nothing less. The fact it occasionally generates power is a tertiary concern, if even that.

      1. Alrighty then.

    2. Is there another dam that could be built there instead?

      Yes. There are already about 45 dams on the Colorado alone. Where you have a canyon, you can have a dam.

      1. Hey Square, how goes it!

        Gee, you would think then the solar array wouldn’t draw any private investment, since a cheaper alternative is available. Or maybe building a dam today isn’t as cheap as you think it might be. Oh, does every canyon have flowing water?

        1. Maybe I missed your point, but it sounds like you were saying since there’s already a dam on the Colorado River (which is different from Colorado state, and flows through CO, UT, AZ, NV, and CA, with associated watersheds), we can’t build another one. That’s not true. The San Pablo Creek watershed in the SF Bay Area, for example, has two dams within about 8 miles. There are two more on Wildcat Creek one canyon over within walking distance of one another. These are not significant rivers – not by a long shot.

          Whether or not a dam is cheap is not at issue – it’s not being able to get permission to dam up a canyon that prevents dams from being built. It’s one of our biggest political problems in drought-prone CA.

          And yes all canyons have flowing water during the rainy season – it’s literally how they form. There are dozens of dams in Nevada today – it’s a very common source of water and power in the SW on account of the abundance of canyons.

          If we opened up the energy sector to the free market, and there was still investment money going into solar over hydroelectric, so be it. But different markets have different needs – dams don’t work as well in Kansas, for example. This is one of many reasons why we advocate free markets over Federal central planning.

          1. No, not all canyons still have water flowing. Once yes, not always now. In fact, the Colorado is now running dry.


            And due note climate change is at least partially to blame.

            My point was, and remains, you’re on shaky ground comparing costs to 2 different energy sources, water and solar. I’m all for dams. I’m just not so sure anyone can assume a dam was an alternative in Nevada. It sure doesn’t look like it.

            1. Someone points out there are 45 dams on the Colorado River.

              Jackand Ace points out it’s going dry because of ‘Climate Change’.

              Points to citation, where the second paragraph reads as follows:

              “Then, beginning in the 1920s, Western states began divvying up the Colorado’s water, building dams and diverting the flow hundreds of miles, to Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix and other fast-growing cities. The river now serves 30 million people in seven U.S. states and Mexico, with 70 percent or more of its water siphoned off to irrigate 3.5 million acres of cropland.

              That darn Climate Change!

      2. Remember we are speaking about Nevada here, and not Colorado. Enjoy!

      3. You know, because a dam built where the water isn’t flowing would be really stupid, no?

        1. Can it be six times stupid?

          It’s so sweet seeing you there holding on the colors and making this your last stand!

  23. If they want to do molten salt they should just go with thorium.

  24. To be sure, anyone who built the Hoover Dam today wouldn’t do it for a penny less than $2 billion, and likely more than that. But not 5….

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