July 11, 2008

Pickens Urges Wind, Natural Gas – Not Oil Texas Billionaire Says U.S. Could Cut Imports 38%

By Jeff Smith

The U.S. could cut oil imports by 38 percent if it generated enough wind power to provide 22 percent of the country's electricity, and use natural gas primarily to fuel cars, Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens said Thursday.

"I want one loser - foreign oil," Pickens said at a news conference at the Colorado Oil & Gas Association's 20th annual Rocky Mountain Gas Strategy Conference & Investment Forum in Denver.

Pickens said the country is on the verge of a disaster because of its dependence on oil from countries that don't like the U.S. much and that his plan could save $300 billion in imports annually.

He characterized the country's reliance on foreign oil as "similar to being on drugs."

Pickens unveiled his energy plan - which he thinks could be accomplished in less than 10 years with the "right leadership" - this week, complete with the Web site PickensPlan.com.

He said he realized Americans are confused and need to be educated about energy policy, and he plans to spend up to $58 million on the effort.

Pickens said he decided, " 'Hell, I'll do it myself.' I think I know more about energy than anyone else does."

Pickens, 80, is building a huge wind farm in Texas. But he said it's easy to do wind projects these days, and that he's not receiving a direct financial benefit by promoting his energy plan.

About 22 percent of the country's electricity generation now comes from natural gas. In its simplest form, Pickens' plan is to replace that with wind power, and use natural gas to fuel automobiles instead.

George Douglas, spokesman for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, noted that NREL was the lead lab on a recent Department of Energy report that concurs the U.S. can get 20 percent of its electricity from wind. It's currently less than 2 percent. But the DOE has a more conservative timetable for doing so - 2030, rather than within the next decade.

The technology exists, Douglas said, but the challenge is distributing the wind energy from the farms in the middle of the country to the coasts where most Americans live. In addition, the manufacturing capacity of wind turbines would have to be boosted.

Xcel spokesman Mark Stutz made similar points. Xcel is a leader in wind energy, deriving about 10 percent of its electricity generation from wind.

"We're all aiming for the same thing - to lessen the dependence on foreign oil," Stutz said. But he echoed former Vice President Al Gore in noting there's no silver bullet and that many things will have to be tried.

For example, Xcel also is supporting new technologies such as battery-operated vehicles that could supply excess electricity during peak demand.

Pickens acknowledged additional infrastructure would be needed to distribute the wind energy across the country, and that some natural gas would still be required for peak electricity demand. But he said those and other challenges, such as encouraging automakers to build more cars that run on natural gas, could be overcome if an administration sees energy dependence as an emergency.

He also said he supports solar energy, hybrid vehicles, ethanol and oil exploration and development. But domestic oil reserves are in decline, Pickens noted, and he sees natural gas and wind power as the cleanest, easiest routes to energy independence.

Energy independence has been a mantra of a number of past administrations, but Pickens characterized the country as having a "pitiful, pitiful case of leadership" on the issue and going 40 years without a real energy plan.

Why? "Because of cheap oil (in the past)," Pickens said.

Pickens said representatives of John McCain and Barack Obama have called to discuss his plan. He also briefed the White House eight weeks ago, including Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman.

"We talked. They were very interested, but nothing came of it," Pickens said.

Originally published by Jeff Smith, Rocky Mountain News.

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