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Production at Nobles Wind Facility Continues to Plummet

Earlier this year, I wrote about how the Nobles Wind project, which is the third-largest wind facility in Minnesota, is already losing steam. The most recent data from the Energy Information Administration (which runs through September) show that 2019 hasn’t been kind to the project, either.

Thus far, the Nobles wind project has a capacity factor of just 33.9, which is far below where it has been in previous years, according to the table below. In fact, the capacity factor (a measure of productivity) of this wind facility is about 10 percent lower this year compared to 2014.

This has important implications for the cost of generating electricity from this facility, which is known as the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE). For those of you who are not familiar with the term LCOE, it is a figure that represents the per megawatt hour (MWh) cost of building and operating a generating plant over an assumed financial lifetime and the quantity of electricity generated by the plant. You can think of it as figuring out the per-mile cost of driving your car over it’s useful lifetime.

Using the permit application for the Nobles Wind Project submitted to the Department of Commerce to attain capital costs ($2,500/kw), and operating expenses (30/kw, which is lower than EIA estimates for new wind turbines), EIA data production for the capacity factors, paid over a 20 year lifetime, I was able to calculate the LCOE’s and put them in the table above.

In 2014, Nobles produced electricity for *only* $65.37 per megawatt hour (MWh), but this cost grew to $83.75 per MWh in 2019 as the capacity factor (amount of electricity produced) fell from 43.3 percent in 2014 to 33.9 percent in 2019, which is a 28 percent increase in cost. This flies in the face of claims made by renewable energy rent seekers that unsubsidized wind is the lowest-cost source of electricity in Minnesota.

Nobles is also the facility that Xcel Energy says will cost $532,000 per turbine (in 2019 dollars) to decommission each of the 134 turbines in operation at this facility, bringing the total cost of decommissioning the Nobles project to $71 million. Overall, the project has overpromised and under-performed, all at an unnecessarily high expense for Minnesota families and businesses who are forced to pay more for their electricity because of wasteful projects like these.