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Big Pickens: T. Boone, the Oilman, Ups the Ante in His Wind Bet


By Keith Johnson
Wall Street Journal
July 8, 2008


T. Boone Pickens certainly has a keen sense of timing. The Texas oilman
called $100 oil when that was a crazy idea, and now he’s climbing on the
green bandwagon with the best of them.

Which first?

Mr. Pickens is investing billions of dollars to build the world’s biggest
wind farm, in Texas. Today, he launched a huge public-policy push that
takes his wind bet one step further. His argument: The U.S. can wean
itself off foreign oil if it puts its faith in prairie breezes.
His idea is as simple in theory as it is hard to implement. If the U.S.
can get serious about wind power—and it does have lots of wind—then it can
free up natural gas that’s used for electricity to run vehicles instead.

That would obviate the need for millions of barrels of oil a day, saving
America hundreds of billions of dollars and moving it closer to energy
independence.

He’s already pitched his “Pickens Plan” to Congress, but—sniffing a
growing sense of public indignation at $4 gasoline and ever-increasing
dependence on foreign oil—he’s now taking his case straight to the people.
For a persnickety old oilman, one of the biggest surprises is his slick
Internet campaign—replete with Facebook profiles and other multimedia
trappings. Mr. Pickens’ aides told USA today he plans to saturate American
living rooms with his message between now and election day.

Taking the message to the people is one thing. Sticking them with the bill
is another. And that’s one potential hitch to his grand plan: While he’s
cracking the whip on politicians to change U.S. energy policy, he has to
figure out how to crack the chicken-and-egg connundrum that stands in his way.

Wind power needs hundreds of billions of dollars in investment in new
transmission networks to make it a big contributor to the U.S. electricity
mix; today it provides just over 1% of power in the U.S. And converting
any sizeable portion of the U.S. vehicle fleet to run on natural gas also
requires a hefty investment in new transportation infrastructure, like
natural gas filling stations.

No matter how you slice it, somebody’s got to foot the bill for Mr.
Pickens’ grand plan to happen. This plan is grand enough that even Mr.
Pickens won’t be able to bankroll it himself.



 

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