The Peabody-Pickens Plan for Perpetuating Pollution
T. Boone Pickens’ efforts to convince the political leadership to invest heavily in a fundamentally flawed energy concept continue to move apace. Anyone else notice his ads following President Obama’s speech to Congress?
Superficially, Pickens’ $10s of millions (likely over $100 million now) expended on advertising, websites, and other media provide a superficially appealing concept:
- Build wind turbines
- Use wind electricity to displace gas-fired electricity (about 22 percent of the grid’s power)
- Use that natural gas to replace imported oil in transportation
So simplistically appealing, with a clarity of purpose put forward by this old oil man in such a compelling manner.
When considering the Pickens Plan, the image that might strike most is wizened T. Boone Pickens speaking simply and directly as wind turbines turn in the background. This old oil man speaking the praises of renewable energy. So refreshing, so appealing. Willing to say, directly, that "this is one problem that we can’t drill our way out of." Are we surprised that prominent Democratic Party leaders have met with and, seemingly, embraced die-hard Republican Pickens with open arms?
The wind turbines might be the most striking image for most, but not me. A very simple pie chart provides, for me, the stark summary of The Pickens Plan and why, fundamentally, T. Boone’s concepts are so dangerous at their core.
It is a very simple pie chart entitled "US sources of electrical generation" with four wedges
- Coal: 50%
- Nuclear: 20%
- Other: 8%
- And, a wedge pulled out: Natural Gas, 22%
Remember, the basic concept of the "Plan": use wind power to displace natural gas from the electrical grid and then use that natural gas to displace imported oil.
The 50% of electricity coming from coal-fired electricity remains untouched in Pickens’ concept. Putting aside the issues of the huge fiscal cost of putting in equipment for concentrated natural gas transportation (and it is a high figure, both for vehicles and refueling stations) and the high opportunity costs that ensue (how else could we spend the money). Put aside how natural gas is a fossil fuel, like oil, and we are simply shifting transportation from one limited in reserves and polluting fossil fuel to another limited in reserves and (albeit less) polluting fossil fuel. Putting aside all the other uses for natural gas that have higher value than moving around SUVs (heating homes, making fertilizer, industrial processes), and putting aside so many other issues, I return to that 50%.
Pickens says that Global Warming is secondary to him, but that adopting his plan will move the nation forward on the Global Warming agenda. That 50% puts the lie to his claims. We cannot make meaningful steps forward in mitigating climate change without radically cutting our (and convincing others to radically cut their) coal usage, mainly for electricity.
What T. Boone offers is an illusion of achieving progress, while setting a path to line his (and his allies’) pockets, and setting a path that would dig our hole(s) even deeper.
In the end, what does that 50% suggest about The Pickens Plan: that Pickens’ hidden and strongest ally might actually be the coal industry and coal industry giants like Peabody.
Thus, the Peabody-Pickens Axis for Perpetuating Pollution.