Thursday, July 10, 2008

Picking Apart the Pickens Energy Plan

T. Boone Pickens is a lot of things -- oilman, hedge fund investor, maybe even a truthteller. But energy policy visionary should not be on his resume.

Yesterday, T. Boone launched what he called "The Pickens Plan" for energy security. Most of it is based on building a lot of windmills and using more natural gas for fuel.

Let's start with his proposal to build more wind farms. On its face, it's a great idea. As his "wind map" shows, there's a constant zephyr blowing across the Great Plains from Canada to Texas all the time. If connected to the electrical grid, a lot of power could be fed into the system. Perhaps this would make plug-in cars feasible on a large scale. From there, T. Boone's vision is a little murky.

He favors natural gas as a way to provide fuel for cars. About a quarter of US electricity is produced by natural gas, but here's the catch: We're importing natural gas, which is being burned up so much by power plants both the price and demand is soaring.

Where's solar power in the Pickens plan? He doesn't give it any role. Unlike giant wind turbines, which have to be situated in wide, sparsely populated open spaces, solar can be installed anywhere. You can put solar cells on cars, garages, large office buildings, commercial warehouses, even windows. The technology is constantly improving and it is coming down in cost.

Better yet, solar energy is the one commodity that isn't traded on an exchange. Speculators can't run the price of it up or down. I won't say that it's free -- it's rather costly to convert it into electricity -- but the resource is easy to get at. No extraction or pipelines are required.

Using natural gas as a fuel replacement for gas and diesel sounds like a good idea at first. Yes, it's cleaner burning than oil, gasoline or coal. But it still produces carbon dioxide and it's still a commodity whose price will soar once people use more of it.

Even if you build a whole refueling infrastructure for natural gas cars, you still have to deal with supply and demand issues. And the last time I checked, most natural gas was used for heating. Do you want to see higher home heating bills? They are already up between 40% and 60% from last year and we haven't even hit the prime hurricane season.

I love the idea of a clean-burning car. I even called up my local Honda dealer to see if I could buy a natural-gas hybrid. Only a handful of them are available in California. If you could get one anywhere else, you'd need a network of natural gas filling stations or a refueling port installed in your home for $1,000 or so.

Pickens also emphasizes that private investment can create his energy network. Why is he letting government off the hook? Could it have something to do with two oilmen running Washington (and the country) into the ground?

If this plain-talking Texan wants to talk turkey, he should start flapping his wings at a White House that blocked every official mention of climate change, thwarted environmental protection, blocked progressive energy policy and spat in the face of energy security.

Congress is also to blame. The Senate has been sitting on a House-Passed package of energy incentives for months. A few backward souls are blocking this landmark bill. Why? Are they afraid Americans would start producing energy on their own on the roos of their own homes or in their own backyards? That's the kind of change Pickens should be talking about.

If government is in the energy security question, then building standards requiring energy efficiency come into play. (Pickens says nothing about conservation, really). Why can't every new building (home, office, factory) make its own power?

Ok, I agree that sending $7 trillion overseas for energy is too much. I'd rather see that money spend on health care for everyone. But Pickens way of solving the problem is wrong headed. We need a comprehensive, integrated solution that combines alternative energy with efficiency and conservation. Everybody has to be on board or it won't work. Being a Texas oilman gives you a narrow view of the world. You can't see the whole truth through an oil pipeline, though.

Here's his plan:

America is addicted to foreign oil.

It's an addiction that threatens our economy, our environment and our national security. It touches every part of our daily lives and ties our hands as a nation and a people.

The addiction has worsened for decades and now it's reached a point of crisis.

In 1970, we imported 24% of our oil.
Today it's nearly 70% and growing.

As imports grow and world prices rise, the amount of money we send to foreign nations every year is soaring. At current oil prices, we will send $700 billion dollars out of the country this year alone — that's four times the annual cost of the Iraq war.

Projected over the next 10 years the cost will be $10 trillion — it will be the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of mankind.

America uses a lot of oil. Every day 85 million barrels of oil are produced around the world. And 21 million of those are used here in the United States.

That's 25% of the world's oil demand. Used by just 4% of the world's population.

Can't we just produce more oil?

World oil production peaked in 2005. Despite growing demand and an unprecedented increase in prices, oil production has fallen over the last three years. Oil is getting more expensive to produce, harder to find and there just isn't enough of it to keep up with demand.

The simple truth is that cheap and easy oil is gone.

What's the good news?

The United States is the Saudi Arabia of wind power.

Studies from around the world show that the Great Plains states are home to the greatest wind energy potential in the world — by far.

The Department of Energy reports that 20% of America's electricity can come from wind. North Dakota alone has the potential to provide power for more than a quarter of the country.

Today's wind turbines stand up to 410 feet tall, with blades that stretch 148 feet in length. The blades collect the wind's kinetic energy. In one year, a 3-megawatt wind turbine produces as much energy as 12,000 barrels of imported oil.

Wind power currently accounts for 48 billion kWh of electricity a year in the United States — enough to serve more than 4.5 million households. That is still only about 1% of current demand, but the potential of wind is much greater.

A 2005 Stanford University study found that there is enough wind power worldwide to satisfy global demand 7 times over — even if only 20% of wind power could be captured.

Building wind facilities in the corridor that stretches from the Texas panhandle to North Dakota could produce 20% of the electricity for the United States at a cost of $1 trillion. It would take another $200 billion to build the capacity to transmit that energy to cities and towns.

That's a lot of money, but it's a one-time cost. And compared to the $700 billion we spend on foreign oil every year, it's a bargain.

An economic revival for rural America.

Developing wind power is an investment in rural America.

To witness the economic promise of wind energy, look no further than Sweetwater, Texas.

Sweetwater was typical of many small towns in middle-America. With a shortage of good jobs, the youth of Sweetwater were leaving in search of greater opportunities. And the town's population dropped from 12,000 to under 10,000.

When a large wind power facility was built outside of town, Sweetwater experienced a revival. New economic opportunity brought the town back to life and the population has grown back up to 12,000.

In the Texas panhandle, just north of Sweetwater, is the town of Pampa, where T. Boone Pickens' Mesa Power is currently building the largest wind farm in the world.

At 4,000 megawatts — the equivalent combined output of four large coal-fire plants — the production of the completed Pampa facility will double the wind energy output of the United States.

In addition to creating new construction and maintenance jobs, thousands of Americans will be employed to manufacture the turbines and blades. These are high skill jobs that pay on a scale comparable to aerospace jobs.

Plus, wind turbines don't interfere with farming and grazing, so they don't threaten food production or existing local economies.

A cheap new replacement for foreign oil.

The Honda Civic GX Natural Gas Vehicle is the cleanest internal-combustion vehicle in the world according to the EPA.

Natural gas and bio-fuels are the only domestic energy sources used for transportation.


Natural gas is the cleanest transportation fuel available today.

According to the California Energy Commission, critical greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas are 23% lower than diesel and 30% lower than gasoline.

Natural gas vehicles (NGV) are already available and combine top performance with low emissions. The natural gas Honda Civic GX is rated as the cleanest production vehicle in the world.

According to NGVAmerica, there are more than 7 million NGVs in use worldwide, but only 150,000 of those are in the United States.

The EPA estimates that vehicles on the road account for 60% of carbon monoxide pollution and around one-third of hydrocarbon and nitrogen oxide emissions in the United States. As federal and state emissions laws become more stringent, many requirements will be unattainable with conventionally fueled vehicles.

Since natural gas is significantly cleaner than petroleum, NGVs are increasing in popularity. The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach recently announced that 16,800 old diesel trucks will be replaced, and half of the new vehicles will run on alternatives such as natural gas.


Natural gas is significantly less expensive than gasoline or diesel. In places like Utah and Oklahoma, prices are less than $1 a gallon. To see fueling stations and costs in your area, check out


Natural gas is our country's second largest energy resource and a vital component of our energy supply. 98% of the natural gas used in the United States is from North America. But 70% of our oil is purchased from foreign nations.

Natural gas is one of the cleanest, safest and most useful forms of energy — residentially, commercially and industrially. The natural gas industry has existed in the United States for over 100 years and continues to grow.

Domestic natural gas reserves are twice that of petroleum. And new discoveries of natural gas and ongoing development of renewable biogas are continually adding to existing reserves.

While it is a cheap, effective and versatile fuel, less than 1% of natural gas is currently used for transportation.

The Mechanics

We currently use natural gas to produce 22% of our electricity. Harnessing the power of wind to generate electricity will give us the flexibility to shift natural gas away from electricity generation and put it to use as a transportation fuel — reducing our dependence on foreign oil by more than one-third.

How do we get it done?

The Pickens Plan is a bridge to the future — a blueprint to reduce foreign oil dependence by harnessing domestic energy alternatives, and buy us time to develop even greater new technologies.

Building new wind generation facilities and better utilizing our natural gas resources can replace more than one-third of our foreign oil imports in 10 years. But it will take leadership.

On January 20th, 2009, a new President will take office.

We're organizing behind the Pickens Plan now to ensure our voices will be heard by the next administration.

Together we can raise a call for change and set a new course for America's energy future in the first hundred days of the new presidency — breaking the hammerlock of foreign oil and building a new domestic energy future for America with a focus on sustainability.


Scotty said...

There is a Public Forum for discussions about Pickens Energy Plan
Cheers !

bk said...

I agree you that much of what Pickens is saying is flawed, but look at this for what it is. This is some movement in the right direction. Here you an oilman who is saying "we cant drill our way out of this." I for one, wish that another two oilmen would have agreed with this 7-1/2 years ago, but I'll take what I can get.