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Can an old oil man turn the US onto wind power?

A spat has broken out in the US over the extent to which America can turn to wind power to reduce its dependence on oil. The former oil man  T. Boone Pickens has released his plan to wean the US off imported oil by turning instead to wind power and natural gas as alternative sources of energy. Pickens, a geologist who started his own oil exploration company in the 1950’s, calls the US the ‘Saudi Arabia’ of wind power and believes that 20% of the country’s electricity could be produced by building wind facilities in the corridor that stretches from the Texas panhandle to North Dakota where the greatest wind speeds in America can be found. 

The involves producing suficient wind power within 10 years to divert 20% of the natural gas now used to fuel power plants for use in cars and trucks. Pickens has been talking up wind power for some time and it’s not like he’s not putting his money where the wind is. Just north of the Texas town of Sweetwater, his Mesa Power company is currently building the largest wind farm in the world. At 4,000 megawatts — the equivalent combined output of four large coal-fire plants — the production of the completed ‘Pampa’ facility will double the wind energy output of the United States.

Now he is turning up the heat by publishing his plan – http://www.pickensplan.com/ – and by starting a PR and advertising campaign aimed at pushing renewable energy to the top of the Presidential election campaign. Pickens says, “Neither presidential candidate is talking about solving the oil problem. So we’re going to make ’em talk about it.”

While Pickens campaign may be already pushing with the wind (according to CNN.com, at least 21 states and the District of Columbia have already set deadlines or goals for utilities to obtain electricity from clean, renewable sources instead of fossil fuel-burning plants) it has not met with universal approval. The Institute for Energy Research, whose views on the need to tackle climate change should be labelled skeptical at best, have come out with a lengthy and detailed document which attempts to point out the pitfalls with the plan and with wind power in general. 

The IER says wind power is intermittent, unreliable and difficult to transmit. Perhaps a bigger problem for any rapid expansion of wind power is the current shortage of key components of wind turbines, as reported in Renewable Energy World magazine yesterday. They say that, as a consequence of rapid market growth, especially in booming markets such as the US, Europe and China, wind turbine demand continues to outstrip the world’s cumulative supply capacity.  This supply problem is not expected to be resolved anytime soon, as the critical parts in question are also used in agriculture, ship propulsion, rotating equipment for power stations, transportation, and mining machinery.

Whether T. Boone Pickens plan will be the catalyst for reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil remains to be seen. But with a personal fortune estimated at somewhere above $4bn, he certainly has the ability to keep the debate centre stage and it will be interesting to see whether either of the two Presidential candidates endorse any parts of the Pickens Plan into their own energy policies.

2 Comments

  • scotty
    Posted July 12, 2008 at 4:51 am

    There is a Public Forum for discussions on Pickens Plan : http://www.pickensenergyplan.com
    See you there !

  • Damon Clifford
    Posted July 12, 2008 at 12:02 am

    I think it’s great that Pickens is putting so much money into alternative energy. For the most part his plan is great and it is getting a lot of people to talk.

    However, the part of the plan that fails is the natural gas aspect for vehicles. We don’t want to replace one non-sustainable energy source with another. Otherwise, we will run into the same problems with natural gas that we have with oil today.

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