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Picking at Pickens’ Plan

Have you heard? Oilman T. Boone Pickens is not only committed to planting the world’s largest wind farm in the fertile soil of Texas. He is not only committed to working to stringing a meaningful electrical grid to move electricity from that wind farm to lush markets for harvesting serious profits. T. Boone has a plan to save America (while making a bundle) and has committed some serious dough to convincing Americans that his plan is the path to a better future. T. Boone restates forcefully what George W Bush said in the 2006 State of the Union address about America’s oil addiction. According to T. Boone,

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.

Here is one of the nation’s leading oil men, a fossil fuel fortune-maker, laying out quite clearly that America’s oil habit is a centerpiece of risk for the nation in the years ahead. Is the addiction’s solution to be found in Newt’s Drill Here! Drill Now! Pay Less (a decade from now … maybe)? Not according to T. Boone:

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.

Maybe Newt and the Republicans should be listening to people who actually know at least something about energy?

Let us be absolutely clear: Legendary conservative oilman T. Boone Pickens says oil is a dead end!

Oil is dead, T. Boone tells us (the US), what should we do?

T. Boone Pickens isn’t stopping with defining a problem, he is outlining (forcefully) a proposed solution path. The PickensPlan is a concept for reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil, to carve into the $700 billion+ per year heading out of the United States to ensure topped-off McSUVs. As T. Boone expresses it, "the largest transfer of wealth in human history." The PickensPlan has a mixture of extremely good and important elements, and concepts that simply don’t comport with energy reality. Let’s take a brief look at some of this.

The centerpiece of this effort is green power and green jobs: a drive for moving wind from roughly 1% of the US electrical supply to 22% by 2020. Construction and maintenance jobs for rural America with cleaner electricity for all Americans. Connect this wind produced in the center of the nation to major urban markets with HVDC cables (much like the European TREC concept). What would it take to do this?

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.

A true bargain and a vision which this author can share with T. Boone.

The next stage of the vision, however, is more troubling.

T. Boone makes a direct relationship between reaching 22% wind electricity with the 22% of electricity currently produced with natural gas turbines. For T. Boone, the goal is to use the wind electricity to displace natural gas electricity to free up that natural gas for displacing petroleum currently used for transport. What’s the problem here? On first brush, multiple items jump out:

  • Natural gas is already a tight resource, already "peaked" like oil, which we could well likely have supply problems in the years ahead. Should we create / foster a new demand?
  • Natural gas and wind power are, in fact, complementary electricity sources at this time. Unless there is a major storage system (such as hydro storage), wind’s challenge is its intermittentcy, that the wind isn’t always blowing. Natural gas turbines can be turned on / off quickly to work as a partner with wind to support electrical demand.
  • This plan seems to ignore one of the most fruitful paths to cut into America’s oil addiction: plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and moving transport to electricity. Why not use that wind generated electricity to directly fuel America’s ever-more electrified transport sector?
  • "Natural gas is simply too useful and expensive to squander [in transport]."

Okay, T. Boone, I’m ready for this conversation. I can go a long with you in defining the problem. I see the value and importance of planting turbines and harvesting the wind for decades to come. But, you’ve lost me when it comes to natural gas.

With all of your investment in outreach, advertising as a fancy website, something is truly impressive on first brush: the Forum looks truly open to real conversations, supportive and critical of your ideas. Eric raises the question of your role in the Swift Boating of John Kerry (with 94 comments last that I checked). Tim Martin demonstrates how partisanship can led to denial of reality as he calls on T. Boone to Quit Drinking the Kool Aid from the Liberal Media spinning many of the classic fantasies and truthiness of those caught within the first stage of denial. And, so on … Over 160 posts, many with 10s and some with 100s of comments, as of this writing. A hat tip, Mr. Pickens, for embracing the new media to such a degree that you’ve opened your website to such an open and strong debate.

To return to T. Boone’s own words

I’m T Boone Pickens. I’ve been an oilman all my life. But this is one emergency that we can’t drill our way out of.

This is a serious problem that requires serious solutions. While not in accord with the natural gas portion of T Boone’s vision, he is bringing much of value to national attention. And, I fully agree with him:

It’s our crisis. And, we can solve it.

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A Siegel

A Siegel

Striving to Get Energy Smart! NOW! to help Energize America toward a prosperous and climate-friendly future.