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The Pickens Plan: Boon or Boondoggle?

| Monday October 13th, 2008 | 1 Comment

pickensplan_logo_top.gif Former oilman, corporate raider cum alternative energy proponent, T. Boone Pickens’ highly, and largely self-promoted “Pickens Plan” only has it half-right as far as charting a course that will lead to a more secure, cleaner energy future for the US, according to critics.
While investing in and developing wind power to the point where it makes up at least 20% of the nation’s power supply is right on the mark, the second part of the Pickens Plan – shifting the 20% of natural gas currently used to produce electricity to transportation by converting vehicles to run on natural gas – is both foolhardy and impractical, according to Intelligent Communities Inc., developers of “The Intelligent Community Initiative,” (ICI) which aims to raise educational and living standards in the US by building an interconnected, symbiotic network that includes a school and business facilitation and business incubation divisions, all linked together by a custom-built, Web-based client-server network.


Another government sinkhole sponsored by self-interest?
elecfuture.jpg “While the Wind Turbine portion of his plan is exceptionally sound, the Natural Gas portion of his plan is exceptionally problematic,” asserts Intelligent Communities (ICI). “Just a short perusal of the issues raised in our paper will reveal one key observation: it is extremely unlikely that the Natural Gas portion of his plan has been vetted by engineers from the standpoint of cost-effectiveness.
“If what we say in our paper is true, the Pickens Plan could be yet another financial sinkhole for the US. With a $10 trillion National Debt, and interest payments on that debt approaching half a trillion dollars a year, another sinkhole is the last thing we need.”
ICI isn’t the only organization to come out against Pickens’ plan to convert vehicles to natural gas, particularly now that a better alternative to gasoline and diesel fuel powered vehicles is at long last emerging – hybrid and all-electric vehicles.
As reported last month in 3P, The Hybrid Owners of America, while in favor of Part One of the “Pickens Plan,” also argues that using natural gas as a transportation fuel makes no sense when technological advances, energy security and environmental concerns are driving growing demand for plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles, and finally giving auto manufacturers the impetus to manufacture them on a large scale.
Fatal flaws
Joining them is David Morris, co-founder and vice president of the the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and director of its New Rules project.
“The Pickens energy proposal has a fatal flaw. Transforming our transportation fleet to natural gas will require massive investments in new engines and new fueling systems…So after 15-20 years and the expenditure of tens, if not hundreds of billions of dollars we would then have a transportation system still 80 percent dependent on oil and 20 percent dependent on a fossil fuel whose life expectancy is not much longer than oil’s,” Morris writes in an October 9
Alternet article entitled, “How T. Boone Pickens’ Energy Plan Just Got Killed.”
Moreover, Morris notes, T. Boone and his financial partners stand to gain potentially enormous returns should states enact plans to convert vehicles to natural gas – at the expense of the American public.
“In California, Pickens has been more upfront about his intentions. The Texas oil and gas billionaire has single handedly financed a ballot initiative that would raise $3 billion for incentives for vehicles using cleaner fuels,” Morris notes.
“The initiative heavily favors natural gas vehicles. The biggest rebates would go toward the purchase of heavy-duty trucks and transit buses fueled by natural gas. Only natural gas vehicles would quality for the largest rebate for passenger vehicles — $10,000.
Here’s the clincher: “The primary beneficiary of this ballot initiative would be Clean Energy, the nation’s biggest supplier of natural gas for transportation needs. Mr. Pickens is majority shareholder of Clean Energy.”
A much better, more honest way to go
In accord with ICI and The Hybrid Owners of America, electrifying out transportation system is a far better plan, Morris continues, a view espoused and promoted by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in a recent report entitled, “Driving Our Way to Energy Independence.”
“Instead of converting part of our transportation system to natural gas, only to have to then convert it again to renewable fuels, we should convert the transportation system to electricity, and make that electricity increasingly renewable as solar and wind power expand.”
Morris cites evidence supporting claims that electric vehicles “have important advantages over natural gas (or gasoline) powered cars. They are more efficient. They are quiet. They generate no tailpipe emissions.
“Moreover, their combined battery storage capacity could usher in a more democratic energy system where households generate transportation fuel from their rooftop solar array and store it in the vehicles’ batteries, and, if needed, use their electric vehicles as backup power plants for their homes.” Not a bad vision and rough guide to a more sustainable and secure energy future.
For those interested, you can check out and download ICI’s “Response to the Pickens Plan” by visiting their website, clicking on “Peak Oil Crisis” and then clicking on the report title.


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  • Rob B

    Sounds like many of the sources you’re quoting have magic wands in their pockets. I wish they’d get them out and use them. Pickens is more interested in our heavy transportation industry. I drive a hybrid (Highlander)and already get 30mpg on E10. PHEV will be a major step forward and the market is working on it already. NG is not as major a transformation as most of the suggestions. It’s a short step from there to H2 enriched NG (HCNG). And another short step to H2, all using the same basic ICE technology that we are too heavily invested in to discard. ICE H2 PHEV is where the passenger and local delivery fleet will go. The H2 will eventually be derived from electrolysis of H2O when wind energy is abundant and the process is improved.
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    The immediate crisis facing us now though, is twofold. Climate and the US balance of trade or payments. Forget about who we buy oil from, friendly or unfriendly they’ll continue to sell it to us at commodity prices. The problem is buying too much of it and using it too inefficiently (artificially low gasoline/diesel prices), thereby not getting enough value for our dollars. That means we are essentially handing too many dollars to the world market with no returned value. It would be better to burn the money.
    Now, I’d rather skip NG and go straight to an H2 and electric planet. But we have to get from here to there and we have to do it now. The Pickens plan is not a good roadmap for this transition, but it’s the best one we can implement now. I wish he’d focus a little more on PHEV’s and distributed power too, but his tools are for profit market tools. I think it’s better than nothing but not as good as government leadership, incentives, and investment.
    Another interesting aspect of the PP is that it seems to be bridging the partisan gap. Hmmm?