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July 22, 2008

Picking on the Pickens Plan

T. Boone Pickens (isn’t that one of the greatest names ever) seems to be trying to give us a private, voluntary solution to three interrelated problems: the need for energy, the cost of energy, and the air pollution created by the dominant sources of energy we use today. Tacked onto this is the issue of energy independence, but do we really need energy independence? At the very least it would be nice to send less money to the despotic regimes that control much of the world’s oil supply.

The Pickens Plan is simple. He wants to build a large number of windmills in the Great Plains, as well as the transmission lines to connect these wind farms to the national grid. As this energy comes on line he wants to shift natural gas away from electricity generation and use it to power cars. The net result of this would be cheaper electricity, cheaper fuel for cars, dramatically less air pollution, and a massively diminished need for oil imports.

Pickens estimates that wind power could produce 20% of America’s electricity, freeing the natural gas we currently use for electricity to be used in cars instead. Doing so could reduce green house emissions by about a fourth, and natural gas could power cars for less than $2 a gallon (the current price is $1 a gallon). He also predicts that this would reduce the need for imported oil by about a third. It would cost $1 trillion to build the windmills, and $200 billion for the transmission lines. Presumably all of this could be done at a profit.

Pickens is putting his money where his mouth is. He’s building wind farms in Texas and spending a lot of his own loot to promote his plan. In fact, his approach is a lot like what wants to do. He’s using massive advertising to recruit a huge army to promote his plan (we call our version of this Operation Everywhere). But what is this army supposed to do?

Pickens constantly talks about his plan in relation to the coming election and the next President. Why? What role does the government play in this plan? Does Pickens want to use his army to seek tax funded subsidies for his plan, or to remove subsidies for other forms of energy to allow his plan to compete on a level playing field? Does he want the government to dictate how natural gas will be used? I’ve searched all over his website for an answer, and cannot find it.

The Pickens Plan really could be a private, voluntary effort, or it could be a Trojan Horse designed to raid the public purse. Stay tuned. We’ll probably find out soon.

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