Wind Power and Natural Gas– Some Thoughts on the Pickens Energy Plan



Boone Pickens made his fortune on oil and has been a bull on natural gas since before I invested in the Mesa takeover attempt of Texaco in 1988. Now he is a bull on wind power and believes that the combination of wind farms and transitioning the nation’s autos from oil to natural gas powered vehicles will deliver the knockout blow to the oil monopoly.

The United States is the “Saudi Arabia of wind”, as Pickens describes our country on his website Pickens believes we should capitalize on our natural wind power and points to rippling positive economic benefits from the creation of new jobs at windpower generating stations in rural America, noting the population gains and tax revenue increases from wind power generating stations in Sweetwater, Texas as an example of this rural renewal.

According to an April 2008 article in The Guardian:

“Over the next four years he [Pickens] intends to erect 2,700 turbines across 200,000 acres of the Texan panhandle. The scheme is five times bigger than the world’s current record-holding wind farm and when finished will supply 4,000 megawatts of electricity – enough to power about one million homes”.

On an even larger scale, Pickens estimates the overall cost of transtiioning to wind power in the U.S. as follows:

“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.”

I would appreciate any comments from those who are familiar with the economics of wind power in action– particularly the successful experience of Germany with wind power.

While the Pickens Plan may make a lot of sense, the website, and what I have heard of the Pickens message so far, omit a major element required for success– immediate moves by American energy consumers to reduce energy demand and increase energy conservation.

The highest impact action we can take to break the oil monopoly and to eliminate our oil addiction is to go cold turkey– drug addicts break their dependency by changing their behavior. Notice how the market oil price drop from $147 to $128 in the last week reflects increasing signs of reduced demand for oil driven by global economic weakness combined with noticeable reductions in demand in the United States over the past twelve months.

We need to permanently change our consumption behavior and develop new patterns that will put a permanent brake on oil price increases during the period of transition. It will take decades to reach a new supply/demand equilibrium as we develop permanent substitutes for oil through renewable energy sources. Sustainable energy solutions will doubtless include wind power and solar power as well as other innovations.

But demand management will make a difference in oil consumption now and does not cost $1 trillion to implement. Change your behavior today to make a difference now!


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