July 10, 2008
Pickens' plan for wind and natural gas

Robert Boyd writes about T. Boone Pickens and his plan for wind and natural gas.

The plan, in a nutshell, is this. The U.S. should convert as much of its automobile fleet as possible from gasoline to compressed natural gas (CNG) as quickly as it can. The benefit is that we produce most of our natural gas domestically, whereas we import 70% of our oil--sending American dollars out of the country, into the grubby fists of various thugs, kleptocrats, fanatics, and all-around assholes. (There is also an environmental benefit, as natural gas burns cleaner than gasoline.)

But wait a minute? Don't we already use every btu of gas that we produce already? Yep--about 22% of America's electricity is generated with natural gas (not to mention homes that are heated with and cook with gas). So if we switch all that electricity-producing gas to vehicle-powering gas, where do we get the electricity from?

Boone's answer is windmills. He believes that vast quantities of windmills, built north-to-south in the Great Plains, where wind blows down unimpeded from Canada, can produce that 22% of America's electricity currently being produced by gas.

As a fan of wind energy, I mostly like the sound of this. There are certainly issues: Pickens is focused a bit too much on the fact that oil is mostly imported - one gets the impression that if we were still consuming mostly domestic oil, he wouldn't care about this - and not on the environmental effects of oil consumption. Indeed, as we see in this YouTube clip, he's perfectly happy to include things like coal - which wind energy should be replacing - in the equation to reduce oil imports, and he'd push for more offshore drilling of natural gas. Gas is also pretty much a peak product, so the swap from oil to CNG may be just replacing one problem with another. And finally, though it's not directly on point, one cannot escape the fact that Boone is, to put it bluntly, a real sumbitch. One embraces someone like him with great hesitation.

Still, he's right about the problem with oil, and it's a good thing to see a genuine oilman like him baldly refute the moronic "Drill here, drill now" nonsense that some Republicans are pushing, as this more thorough critique points out. As I said, I've got some issues with his solution, but he's correctly identified the problem, and I love seeing wind energy get a big boost. I think this sums it all up as well as anything:

Seriously, though, it's great that gazillionaire TBP is talking up peak oil and joining the wind power bandwagon (see "Wind Power -- A core climate solution"). And it's great he plans to spend tens of millions of dollars pushing this idea and delivering the message that $15 billion dollars for the wind production tax credit is peanuts compared to the $700 billion this country is going to spend on foreign oil this year.

But if you want to displace oil, the obvious thing to do is [to use] wind power to charge plug-in hybrids (see "Plug-in hybrids and electric cars -- a core climate solution"), multiple models of which will be introduced into the US car market in two years. Indeed, with electric utilities controlling the charging of the plug-ins, they can make optimum use of variable windpower, which is mostly available at night time. That would be win-win-win.

The Pickens Plan, however, is based on the utterly impractical idea that "Harnessing the power of wind to generate electricity will give us the flexibility to shift natural gas away from electricity generation and put it to use as a transportation fuel."

Uhh, never gonna happen, T. Boone. Never. The most obvious reason is the gross inefficiency of the entire plan.


A 2002 analysis of why natural gas vehicles (NGVs) didn't catch on was published in Energy Policy, "Commercializing an Alternate Vehicle Fuel: Lessons Learned From Natural Gas For Vehicles," (subs. req'd). The study concluded, the environmental benefits of NGVs were oversold, as were the early cost estimates for both the vehicles and the refueling stations: "Early promoters often believe that 'prices just have to drop' and cited what turned out to be unachievable price levels." The study concluded, "Exaggerated claims have damaged the credibility of alternate transportation fuels, and have retarded acceptance, especially by large commercial purchasers."

So a large-scale switch to NGVs by consumers is not going to happen no matter what T. Boone does. But he could help accelerate windpower into the marketplace and for that alone he deserves some kudos.

Indeed. Let's hope he takes the feedback to heart and runs with the best parts of his plan. He could make a big difference.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 10, 2008 to National news

We here in Virginia are debating offshore drilling in our coastal waters. Our General Assembly is encouraging Congress to lift the moratorium on the Atlantic OCS in order for us to explore for natural gas. (They are naive that way, BTW.) However, as T. Boone Pickens probably knows full well, there is no regulatory framework in place that allows for leasing of areas for just the production of natural gas. It's nothing more than a gimmick for Big Oil. Pickens needs to understand that he can't have his cake and eat it too. No new drilling PERIOD! There are plenty of other areas with unused leases that they can go after.

Posted by: eileen on July 11, 2008 12:52 PM

I believe that he wants both wind and solar. He shows a map of the wind corridor and also of areas where solar is big. Needless to say Texas has both a lot of sun and wind.

He says that natural gas is just a bridge, eventually the cars will run on hydrogen or electricity.

Posted by: hdr kid on July 22, 2008 4:52 PM
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