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Wind Gets Knocked Out of the Pickens Plan

Leon Kaye | Wednesday December 29th, 2010 | 4 Comments

It was not that long ago when T. Boone Pickens ranked up there on television air time with the Snuggie and the Ped Egg.  His commercials, or infomercials, promised that the wind corridor in the central United States, paired with natural gas, would wean the U.S. off of fossil fuel imports and push the country towards energy independence.

Pickens has adjusted his eponymous plan over the past two years.  In summer 2009 he walked away from a wind farm in the Texas panhandle, a year after he spent US$80 million touting the “Pickens Plan.”  This spring, he told the Houston Chronicle that his plan would focus on less wind and more natural gas.  And as of last week, wind is now completely out of the picture.

Pickens stated that with the low cost of natural gas in the United States, utilities just will not accept energy generated from wind because of the cost differential.  To that end, he is now rallying his 1.7 million Pickens Plans supporters and Congress to pass a new energy plan.  If Pickens has his way, the federal government will offer incentives to convert fleet and large trucks to run on compressed natural gas.  With that switch, claims Pickens, the United States can cut its foreign imports of petroleum by half.

Some observers claim that Pickens was never serious about his plan at all, but that the wind plan was a ruse to snare land rights in order to transport water to thirsty Texas cities like Dallas.  Others point out that the Pickens Plan was flawed from the start:  wind may be abundant in the central U.S., but the electricity had to be transmitted long distances to large population centers.  In the end, the plans to build those necessary transmission lines fizzled.

Pickens and his supporters will have a sympathetic Congress after the new year, but any push for his plan will draw a huge fight.  An emphasis on natural gas production will rile those who oppose hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” a cost effective but destructive method to extract gas that can also contaminate groundwater.

For those that mourn the Pickens Plan‘s demise, hope is on the way, at least up north.  Pickens had already ordered a bevy of wind turbines, which most likely are on their way to Canada.  Meanwhile, the global wind industry is still in growth mode, with even more development expected in 2011.

Leon Kaye is the editor and founder of GreenGoPost.com, and can be followed on Twitter.


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  • Gerardo Viera

    Research shows that Central US is ideal because of the constant wind speeds of 10+ MPH needed to optimize output. You pointed out the costs to transmit this electricity was not cost effective which is why Pickens abandoned wind. I’m guessing though that the answer is a better engineered wind turbine that can operate at 5 MPH wind speeds thus expanding the reach of new sites for wind farms and reducing the transmission costs.

    • Helen Kozoriz

      Industrial-scale wind energy is widely promoted as a clean and sustainable source of energy. It brings, however, many adverse impacts of its own which are often ignored or even denied. Of most immediate concern for communities targeted for wind power facilities are their huge size, unavoidable noise, and strobe lights day and night, with the consequent loss of amenity and, in many cases, health.

      People concerned with the environment are increasingly aware of the negative impacts of the giant machines and their additional supporting infrastructure (including heavy-duty roads, transformers, and powerlines) on wetlands, birds, bats, beneficial insects, and other wildlife — both directly and by degrading, fragmenting, and destroying habitat for their construction.

      Considering these and other impacts, the construction of industrial wind energy facilities cannot be justified in most of the places they are proposed. They do more harm than good.

      How much good do they actually do? The claims of reducing pollution or greenhouse gases appear to be greatly exaggerated. Wind is a diffuse and fickle resource that does not follow demand. Despite decades of experience and substantial installations in Denmark, Germany, and Spain, the giant turbines have not been shown to reduce the use of other fuels on the electric grid — such as natural gas, coal, and nuclear — let alone gasoline for transport and oil for heating. For this reason, their ability to reduce carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming or pollutants that cause acid rain and health problems such as asthma is doubtful, despite their tremendous size and sprawl.

      See National Wind Watch at http://www.wind-watch.org/

    • http://successaligned.com Kate

      Is anyone here familiar with the Pickens Plan entrepreneur model? I just received a call from a company that sets you up as an owner of a website that sells wind, solar, energy saving devices and rechargeable batteries.

      I’m curious if it’s legit – it appears to be associated w/the Pickins Plan.

      Thanks!

  • http://renewablebook.com Jeremy Shere

    The above comment makes questionable claims lacking supporting evidence. Wind may not be as energy dense as coal, oil, or natural gas, but it’s not a “diffuse and fickle resource.” As I’ve written about (see renewablebook.com), wind developers don’t simply put up wind turbines and hope for the best. They rely on sophisticated wind forecasting models that allow them to target wind-rich locations.

    Claims that wind turbines are noisy and cause illness are largely anecdotal and have been widely dismissed by researchers.

    Wind farms are not typically built in wetlands or other “wild” areas. Many are built on farmland or cattle grazing land and don’t hamper those activities.

    Finally, countries like Denmark get nearly 20% of their energy from wind and hydropower–a chunk that significantly offsets their reliance on fossil fuels.