July 12, 2008
Steffy on the Pickens Plan
Loren Steffy adds his two cents to the discussion of the Pickens Plan.
It's hard to grasp, though, how parts of the plan would be implemented. Assuming all the rights to millions of acres could be acquired and the wind farms built, there's still the problem of wind itself. It doesn't always blow.
A recent study by Cambridge Energy Research Associates found that wind power is least available between June and September, the peak months for electricity consumption.
When the turbines are becalmed, we'll need other power plants -- primarily gas-fired ones, which can be started more quickly than other types of generation -- to meet demand.
What's more, someone has to pay for building transmission lines to carry the power from the prairies. Guess who? In Texas, the cost of new transmission lines is born by consumers, not the generators.
Pickens argued that wind technology will improve as more farms are built, and as commodity prices rise, it will become a cost-effective power source.
"As it moves in, the natural gas will move out," he said. "The price of natural gas will still be better for vehicles and still be cheaper than foreign oil."
Pickens has championed natural gas vehicles since he converted his Cadillac and drove around Dallas in the early 1990s, but it's unlikely average drivers would do the same.
The point about infrastructure is valid, though that's part of what Pickens wants to spend all that money on. I don't see why "average drivers" wouldn't convert to natural gas vehicles if they were demonstrably cheaper to use and there were enough places to go for fillups. People are switching to hybrids, after all.
That's just a quibble, because I agree with Steffy's larger point, also made here, that it would be much more efficient to encourage plug-in hybrids instead, as the infrastructure is already there. I suspect that will be the consensus criticism, so hopefully it will have an effect on Pickens and his plan. As before, Pickens deserves credit for pushing this into the forefront. If he makes some adjustments, this could really go somewhere.
And since Steffy brought up the fact that consumers wind up paying for new transmission lines, I'll note that there's a new poll out suggesting that most Texans would be willing to pay a few bucks extra a month for just such a thing to carry wind energy.
The survey, commissioned by a group of wind generation companies, is being released in advance of state utility regulators' debate over how much new transmission to require for wind-generated electricity. The Public Utility Commission is considering several plans, at costs ranging from about $3 billion to $6 billion.
The commission staff estimates the plans could cost average household electric consumers from $2.50 to $5 extra a month.
"This is a clear picture of strong support for wind energy and a public willing to help pay for the transmission lines needed to access Texas wind farms," said Ray Sullivan, a spokesman for a wind power group.
The poll of 804 registered voters was conducted July 1-2 by Baselice & Associates. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percent.
When asked about a new charge of $4 each month for power line construction to carry electricity generated by wind farms, 55 percent said they would favor paying the new fee and 42 percent said they would be opposed, with 4 percent unsure.
However, there was less support for a similar question about whether they would be willing to pay "a few dollars more each month." That scenario drew a favorable response from 49 percent with 46 percent opposed and 6 percent unsure.
That's still good enough to go with. I mean, who's going to lead the opposition on this, and on what basis? This strikes me as a scenario where the more people hear about the concept, the more they'll approve of it. Let's make this happen.
UPDATE: Patrick in the comments asked what CD07 candidate and wind-power executive Michael Skelly thought of the Pickens plan. I sent an email to the campaign to inquire, and got this response:
Michael Skelly has spent over a decade working in the renewable energy business. He applauds T. Boone Pickens for his call to action and for his intriguing proposal to increase renewable energy production.
So there you go.
Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 12, 2008 to National news
Reading Pickens' plan and Steffy's rebuttal, it occurred to me that, as is often the case, the solution may be in the middle. Wind power has its problems, the biggest being that wind is least when power needs are greatest. So, natural gas power plants may well be needed to cover the gap. If electric and hybrid vehicles make inroads, this frees up natural gas to power those electric plants.
But, Pickens is off the mark on a bigger issue. The solution is not to eliminate one fuel source for another. The solution is many fuel sources COMBINED with conservation of ALL energy. There are not enough sources of fuel and energy for the US to continue using cheap fuel AND wasting it. Until that bit of logic sinks through the thick skulls of Americans, NO solution will work.
Steffy's commentary is a prime example of what every meaningful effort to address energy independence has faced for as long as I can remember...the perfect is a formidable enemy of the good. We look for easy fixes and silver bullets to solve problems and use any imperfection as a way to denigrate and delay legitimate incremental improvements.
I've seen Mr. Pickens discuss his plan. He's been upfront in stating that wind is only a part of the puzzle. When asked about nuclear, oil, coal, hydro, biofuels, natural gas, he clarified his statements this way. "I'm for any source of energy that is domestically produced and I'm against any source of eneregy that is imported."
He's made no secret of the fact that he's a businessman invested in projects that stand to benefit from aspects of this plan. But he points out that the country stands to benefit as well. I tend to agree with him.
Steffy points out..."Why don't we just switch to plug-in hybrids, which automakers say they already have in development? We already have the infrastructure we need in our wall sockets."
Fine. But the source of almost 50% of our electrical power generation comes from coal. While cheaper at present levels, wind is far cleaner than coal. And it's renewable. And you don't have to transport the source of energy (coal) to transmission site.
I wonder what Congressional candidate Michael Skelly thinks of the Pickens Plan.
RedScare, to address your comment "But, Pickens is off the mark on a bigger issue. The solution is not to eliminate one fuel source for another. The solution is many fuel sources COMBINED with conservation of ALL energy."
In an interview with CNBC, Pickens acknowledged just that. Here is a link to the news story and a couple of clips of video in which he discusses the problem.
All forms of energy have a part to play according to Pickens. I think he'd be the first to admit that his plan only addresses a portion problem but at this point I'll take incomplete and imperfect action over complete and perfect inaction 8 days a week.
** The point about infrastructure is valid, though that's part of what Pickens wants to spend all that money on. I don't see why "average drivers" wouldn't convert to natural gas vehicles if they were demonstrably cleaper to use and there were enough places to go for fillups. **
Have you noticed your electric bill lately? Natural gas costs are largely responsible for the larger bills many have been paying.
This notion of natural gas as a panacea because it's allegedly abundant and "cleaper" (as you put it) is hard to square with the price of natural gas.
We may be in somewhat better shape with domestic natural gas reserves than crude reserves (although getting more natural gas still requires increased exploration, which is a no-go for some people), but it's hard to envision it as a panacea. Serious energy security plans require comprehensive solutions. "The answer" is not one or two things.
Thanks for catching the typo, Kevin. I don't know what the blogosphere would do without your tireless copy-editing. I sleep better at night knowing that you never do as long as there are typos out there on the Internet.
Moving on to more substantive matters, I'm not sure what part of "if they were demonstrably cheaper to use and there were enough places to go for fillups" you're having trouble with. My quibble with Steffy here is that he made an assertion without giving a reason for it. Part of Pickens' challenge is to convince people to try something different, which he clearly believes will be a better deal for them. If Steffy thinks that won't work, I'd like to understand his reasoning.