Reactions to Pickens’ Plan


Right now, we get about 20% of our electricity from burning natural gas. If we started getting that electricity from renewable sources instead, then we could take the natural gas we would save and use it to run our cars (or a lot of them) and thereby reduce our use of planet-warming, atmosphere-polluting oil. This thought is the essence of the “Pickens Plan,” the latest project of financier and oil magnate T. Boone Pickens.

I just read about the plan yesterday. Specifically, Pickens wants to use wind energy to replace the natural gas we currently use for electricity generation. We would get a win on reducing carbon pollution from burning gasoline for transportation, and also get a start on building our renewable energy sources. It’s a nice, big, high-level thought, and I love big, high-level thoughts. The plan is also more than a thought: Pickens claims to have sunk $58 million so far into realizing this idea. So I figure the plan is worth looking at for a minute, because whether or not the plan is practical or even desirable, it has some very interesting aspects.

  • First, the plan dovetails nicely with Gore’s call for generating all of our electricity from renewable sources. If Pickens will help us get enough wind energy going to take care of 20% of our electricity generation, then we’re 1/5 of the way home, no matter what happens with our use of natural gas.
  • Pickens intends to profit from this by selling wind-powered electricity. He is investing serious money in building wind generators in the Texas panhandle. I couldn’t be more thrilled. Yes, capitalists of the world, please, invest your capital in renewable energy rather than shale oil extraction, or climate skeptic think tanks, or more off-shore drilling. I hope Pickens gets rich all over again from wind energy.
  • One of the most fun aspects of the plan is the way that it works on two energy markets simultaneously: the electricity generation and the transportation. That is probably also its weakest point: it’s going to be a big enough job to get wind energy and other renewables in place for electricity generation without trying to control exactly what gets done with the natural gas that wind energy replaces. Fortunately, the policy initiatives that will support the two parts of the plan are separable. We can go for a win on wind-generated electricity without committing ourselves to natural gas as an auto fuel.
  • However, if you accept the idea that corn and soy ethanol is a bad idea, and believe that cellulosic ethanol is too far off, then a big effort to use natural gas as a fuel looks like a better idea than it does at first glance. Not a convincing idea, but better than I first thought. And yes, Pickens has also made investments in vehicles that run on natural gas, so he will be profiting from that end of the deal too.
  • Pickens has built a Web 2.0 site to generate grassroots, public support for his scheme. So it’s an astroturf organization, but without the lies about who pays the bills, because Pickens’ organization dreams of becoming a real boy with real public support. Pickens wants his name all over this, which suggests that he may have convinced himself that he’s actually doing a legitimate thing.

Interesting stuff, and I’ve only barely looked at it. At this moment, my bottom line would be that we have to be cautious about the natural gas part (think corn ethanol), but any help we can get in pushing forward Gore’s goal of completely renewable electricity is welcome.

Thanks to ItsSimpleSimon over on Daily Kos for my first encounter with this, and for his critique of the natural gas element of the plan.


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