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.