T Boone-doggle-Pickens

by William Yeatman on August 1, 2008

T. Boone Pickens, oil man turned wind man, was in Washington last week, and even Senators paid special attention. Pickens was here to testify, or perhaps lobby is a better word, in favor of what is being called the Pickens plan: build up the wind infrastructure in the Midwest to replace natural gas, currently used for electricity, so that it can be used in the transportation sector.

Obviously, the plan itself is not feasible: wind power is expensive and intermittent.  Moreover, the majority of the population, and therefore electrical demand, live on the coasts, hundreds or thousands of miles away from the proposed wind farms. Pickens believes revamping the electrical grid is long overdue, and that if the federal government does not want to do it, then “get out of the way” for private investors to do it. But who is going to invest tens of billions of dollars to lay the power lines (and battle private property owners for rights to lay the power lines on their property) all over the country for an uncompetitive energy source?

Well, the federal government, at least in part, according to Pickens, who wants to see $150 billion from taxpayers channeled to the wind industry over a ten year period. Pickens’s real crusade is against foreign oil, not global warming, which is “on page two” for him. He sees importation of energy as a bad thing, since we bring in roughly 60% of our oil from abroad. He wants more of everything American: oil (including offshore and ANWR), coal, natural gas, wind, solar, biomass, nuclear—everything. Unfortunately though, Pickens, who was sure to remind everyone at the hearing that he was a lifelong geologist and oilman, is pessimistic about the amount of recoverable oil reserves from ANWR and offshore, despite 80 billion barrels being a generally accepted low-ball estimate.

Pickens is really in an ideal political position to lobby for wind energy: he has donated millions to Republican Party causes (including the Swift Boat group from 2004) and is now jumping ships to push for an environmental cause that the Democrats cannot object to. His authority as a successful oilman gives credibility to his pessimism on recoverable oil in ANWR and offshore, which makes Democrats grin. With this kind of political power, Pickens has now invested (or is planning to invest—the details are unclear) an astounding two billion dollars on wind power, in addition to spending $58 million (tax deductible) in advertising to promote his mission. His visit to the Hill was little more than requesting a guarantee to double or triple his investment.    


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