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T. Boone Pickens. Photo by David Frey.

Oilman Pickens Sees Rockies as Wind Corridor

Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens is a geologist by training, but lately he’s been testing the wind. The real wind, and the political winds.

Pickens looks at the eastern edge of the Rockies and sees a massive generator – a wind corridor that could host thousands of wind turbines and satisfy a big chunk of our nation’s energy needs.

When he tests the winds in Washington, he sees politicians that won’t budge without a big show of public support. So the Texas billionaire is bankrolling a campaign for wind power, and he’s crisscrossing the Great Plains to drum up support.

Pickens calls it The Pickens Plan: an ambitious proposal to decrease our foreign oil dependence by more than a third. He wants to see wind turbines spinning over along the Rockies eastern edge, from Texas to Canada. The $1 trillion investment (plus a couple billion for a new network of transmission lines), which he likens to President Eisenhower’s interstate highway system initiative, would be a bargain in the long run, he says.

His plan calls for the country to use wind to power at least 20 percent of our electricity needs, then switch our natural gas reserves from our power plants to our cars and trucks. (Pickens himself drives a natural gas-fueled Honda Civic GX.)

One of the richest men in America, Pickens is funding his $58 million energy campaign himself. He is trying to get 1 million people to sign up on his Web site, pickensplan.org, and he’s been trumpeting the plan at “T. Boone Town Halls,” from Lamar, Colo., last week, to Lincoln, Neb., Rapid City, S.D., and Fargo, N.D., in a few days.

“Boone is changing the world,” says fellow Texas billionaire Sam Wyly, who owns Green Mountain Energy, which buys wind power.

Wyly introduced Pickens when he appeared recently at the Aspen Institute, whose well-heeled crowd, including Republican Gov. Mark Sanford, of South Carolina, was a little different than the folks that usually show up at his town halls. Earlier in the day, he pitched his plan to Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who had spoken in Aspen the day before. He planned to meet with his Democratic rival, Barack Obama, in Reno, Nev., on Sunday.

“I think this is so important to the country that if he wanted me to meet at midnight Sunday night I’d be there,” he said.

Pickens calls the U.S. “the Saudi Arabia of wind power,” Rocky Mountain states like Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana, along with their Great Plains neighbors, are among the 15 most blustery states in the country. He wants to harness that power to get the country to reduce its dependency from the other Saudi Arabia. The U.S. is dependent on foreign countries for 70 percent of its oil, he says, and at a price tag of $700 billion a year, “it’s the largest transfer of wealth in the history of mankind, and it’s happening very, very fast.”

“I applaud his leadership on wind power,” says Amory Lovins, co-founder and chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute, based in Old Snowmass, Colo., a longtime proponent of renewable energy. “The U.S., with Texas in the lead, added more in wind power than the world added in coal power last year.”

Pickens’ plan has been well-received by lots of environmentalists for its role in boosting wind power. (He’s a fan of solar, too.) His ideas aren’t exactly green, though. The thrust of his plan is about reducing foreign oil dependency, not greenhouse gases. Although he admits it won’t do much to increase our supplies, Pickens favors off-shore drilling and opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, something most environmentalists don’t get behind. Not too many environmentalists are on board with his embrace of nuclear power, either, or of his support for non-traditional fuels like oil shale and oil sands.

When Al Gore announced his challenge to switch to renewables completely in 10 years to combat global warming, Pickens begged to differ. He issued a statement criticizing Gore’s plan for doing nothing to combat foreign oil dependence.

“It is clear that he and I have two very different objectives and our plans should be viewed with that in mind,” Pickens said in a statement.

Some also criticize his plan for being self-serving. His company Mesa Power is planning the world’s largest wind farm in the Texas Panhandle.

Pickens, though, is among those who believe that world oil supplies have peaked, and that what’s left is only getting pricier at a time when our reliance on foreign oil is growing. He looks at wind power as not only a way to wean the country off foreign oil, but to boost rural America and restore the country’s technological leadership.

“We need to get out in front of the world instead of dragging behind the world,” he said.

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12 comments

  1. T. Boone was among the first of our entrepreneurs to encourage the selling off of Good Will by big businesses…

  2. If you put a ton of coal or a barrel of oil in a furnace and burn it, a predictable amount of energy will be produced. With enough raw material, you can make energy all day long, all year long. You know, boil the water, make steam, run a turbine, make electrical power. And then you can slowly shut the furnace down, or slowly make it burn hotter. Nothing like opening a valve to a water turbine deep in the bowels of a power house, however. Not that instantly available.

    Wind is another beast of its own. It cannot blow for days at a time, and it can blow way harder than any man made wind turbine can safely use. Wind has a very low predictable power production rate and time. When you really need it, the wind does not blow. And when you don’t need it (this spring on the Columbia River with a huge spring runoff) the wind can blow endlessly.

    So hydro power is run to make electricity, and to address the multiple uses of the water released from behind the dams. Fish passage, irrigation, stream structure continuity, and watershed safety. An insane situation happened this spring along the lower Columbia River, now devoid of the once many aluminum smelters that used spring power at cheap rates, when wind farm managers “could not be reached” to turn off turbines to an overloaded electrical grid, and dams had to stop turbines and release water over spillways, which was really harmful to migrating salmon going down to sea as smolts and coming in from the ocean for later spawning. The high flows over the dams caused nitrogen supersaturation in the water, giving fish the “bends”, making them very susceptible to predation. So how frigging “GREEN” is that? Gotta keep that wind power on line to get the green credits, and to make subsidized power when you can……no matter how many fish we kill. Sort of like the Idaho wilderness fires in sockeye salmon habitat. Makes no sense to ESA issues, but now that fire is “good” and suppression is “bad”, screw those slimy fish with a decently eroded watershed and lots of mud.

    The ONLY reasons wind power is now centered along the Columbia River corridor is interesting. First, there are myriad huge transmission lines send BPA power far and wide. Second, there are a lot of wheat lands on the tables above the Gorge, which are private land, thus no ESA, NEPA, EIS review is mandatory and the ability of “greenie” to sue at every juncture in the permitting process is avoided to some degree. It is a whole lot cheaper and easier to feed your wind generated power into a huge existing grid than it is to create a grid that will be used for INTERMITTENT POWER, unless of course there is a hidden agenda of fossil or nuclear power plant installations along the new distribution lines to take the vagaries of wind out of the equation. Or maybe some new hydropower installations we are not apprised of at this moment. There has to be some sort of predictability to the available power, and a place for surplus to go in times of plentiful wind. Only in a battery can electricity be stored, and there just are not batteries that big or numerous to pick up the slack for a windy day….or even to capture the wind this comment generates…

  3. Gee, maybe I’ve missed something, but how come Craig’s never fulminated about financial conflicts of interest for Republicans? Cheney and the no-bid contracts for Halliburton and KBR?
    I think ANY politician should have his/her money in blind trusts (and political campaigns should be based on ideas and public funds, not corrupting donations from special interests).
    That being said, there are a number of technologies under development to help intermittant wind and solar energy even out the supply/demand roller coaster, including using excess wind/solar power to “store” energy via compressed air in suitable rock formation, pumping water uphill to reservoirs for later release over turbines, generation of oxygen and hydrogen through electrolysis for later combustions, etc.

  4. Speaking of fulminating, can you just imagine how Nancy Pelosi is fizzing like a bottle of Pepsi with a spoonful of salt after being caught with both hands in the cookie jar and her nose in the hog trough?

  5. Craigie is a special person and should be treated gently, inky…

  6. Boone makes me fearful for our backyards. That’s right. Fearful.

  7. The sad thing about the wind power of Wyoming is that Wyomingites will be the last people in the country able to buy that power. The coal companies own the Wyoming Republican Legislature. Thanks to big coal protecting their monopoly, it is literally harder to get a permit for a windmill (or solar panels) to provide power for your house than it is to get a permit for a new coal fired power plant.

  8. flounder is greatly mistaken. States that generate wind power generaly export out-of-state because its cost is more expensive and would upset the locals. The new wind farm being built in Montana near Ethridge is selling its power to the San Diego area that is starving for power. Wyoming rate payers are lucky to NOT have to pay for this expensive power. The trick is to have the local economic vitality from the construction and operation but let someone else enjoy the cost.

  9. Wind power, any “green” power, can be ordered by the consumer. You can assuage a guilty conscience by buying “green” power instead of hydro or fossil fuel produced electricity. Of course, you pay more. So of like buying a Tahoe tarted up with emblems, called an Escalade, from the Caddy dealer. You get the same thing as a Chevy, but you pay more for the experience. You are more exclusive. You can let your financial hangdown out for air…and you can do that in specifying to your power provider that you want “green” power. They will GLADLY let you pay extra for it. All the while the power providers get subsidies from the whole of taxpayers…some of which are passed on to the wind farmers…do I smell scam? sure.

    I guess I will have to get my electric bill with a pint of guilt, because I will never pay more, on purpose, for “green” power from the bird and bat killers. I like a touch of dead salmon in my light socket. And maybe some brimstone smell to the outlet on the kitchen counter. And if my state votes for Obama, and he wins, we will all be paying more for everything, no just electricity, in a vastly expanded Nanny State.

  10. Wind power can be had for 5 cents/kWh est.. Coal is estimated at 3.5/4 cents/kWh for a new plant. The thing about coal is they get the “negative externalities” paid for by all of us. “Negative externalities” is a term used by economists that basically means they get to pollute a public trust held by everyone, like air, without having to pay for it. Another way to say this is they get corporate welfare, and the true costs of coal are much higher.
    Listen, if the market dictated where Wyomingites buy their power, if coal was truly so much cheaper, some enterprising person could build a wind plant and try to sell the power to people in Wyoming and it would fail right? Instead the coal industry has gamed the Wyoming legislature to make it really, really hard for some theoretical competitor to sell power to Wyomingites; conversely they have made it nearly impossible for Wyomingites to set up their own power generation like rooftop solar and sell power back to the grid.
    If coal is so cheap and such a better deal Craigie, why do think they are pulling all the Communist stuff instead of letting the “free market” prove them right?

  11. How about climate change? Energy is never free. Pulling energy out of the air will slow air movement and will slow the movement of weather systems. Will it change the climate? I don’t think so, but I am one of the global warming non-belivers.

  12. thedirtydemocrat

    Empty Snark seems to think things that move have no air movement or it would have been taken into account.
    If you have ever ridden a bus or waited along side the road you would feel the movement of the air as the vehicles whiz past. That too is wind movement. And could cause the overall disturbance of the atmospheric currents? I don’t think so.
    I believe clean coal does not exist because there will always be smoke from it as well as from biofeuls. So the only way is to work on really clean energy such as wind and solar power.
    Idaho has a geat deal of wind especially from the governor’s office and that of the congressional team that sits in DC. That aside we need not drill, drill, drill. We need conservation not elimination of our fossil fuels just the elimination of the fossils in the congress.