Issue Report: Pickens US energy plan

What are the pros and cons of T. Boone Picken's US energy plan?

The Pickens Plan is an energy policy proposal announced July 8, 2008 by American businessman T. Boone Pickens. Pickens’ stated intention is to reduce American dependency on imported oil by investing approximately US$1 trillion in new wind turbine farms for power generation, which he claims would allow the natural gas currently used for power generation to be shifted to fuel trucks, buses and automobiles. Pickens claims that his plan could reduce by $300 billion (43%) the amount the country spends annually on foreign oil. Though the plan has received broad public support, several important technical issues and some questions over Pickens’ true motives have been raised. The questions surrounding this debate include some of the following. Is the Pickens Plan economically viable? Will it stimulate US economic growth? Will it depend on US government subsidies? Will Mr. Pickens profit, and does this matter? Is wind energy generally a good investment? Is it a good idea in the proposed Texas wind corridor? Can the electric grid handle it? Will it require expensive electric grid improvements? Is Picken’s Plan for natural gas a good idea? Are natural gas cars a good idea? Will they be a good element in fighting global warming? Does the infrastructure exist for these vehicles? Is there sufficient political and popular support for the Pickens Plan?

Economics: Is the Pickens Plan economically viable?

The Pickens Plan will stimulate the US economy

"What Pickens Has Right, What He Has Wrong". ClimateProgress. 28 July 2008

“A big wind plan would be good for the economy, particularly in the nation’s job-starved rural areas. Last time I checked, farmers and ranchers nationwide could earn $5,000 annually for each tiny piece of land they lease to host a turbine. There aren’t many crops — legal crops, at least — that can earn that kind of money. In windy Nolan County, Texas, wind power has created 1,000 new jobs and is expected to produce $315 million in revenues. In rural Colorado, the Danish wind manufacturer Vestas is building two plants to manufacture wind blades and towers, creating hundreds of new jobs. The company reportedly is manufacturing in the United States because wind turbines built with Euros would be too expensive in the U.S. market at today’s exchange rates; it may have picked Colorado because of Gov. Bill Ritter’s plan to build a “new energy economy”.”

Pickens makes beneficial long-term investments in electric grid

It is common knowledge that the US electric grid is outdated. It is welcomed, therefore, that the Pickens Plan would upgrade the US electric grid, even in rural parts of Texas.

Pickens Plan provides a good test case

Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign, said, in regards to the Pickens Plan, “We really need to kick the tires on this and see what works”.[1]

That the Pickens Plan is for profit is a good thing

"Critique of Pickens Plan misses the point". Force Change. 7 Aug. 2008

“Will he make a profit if his plan is enacted? Of course, since he is the biggest developer of wind power in the country. But there is nothing inherently wrong with that[…]Rather, it is the very alignment of profit and national interest that has created the current environment where a proposal like the Pickens Plan or Gore’s 10 Year Plan are actually contemplated. It’s not like we just realized this year that global warming and dependence on foreign oil is a bad thing. Instead, it is that fuel prices have finally gone up enough to make it profitable to pursue alternative sources. This alignment of profit and public interest is our best chance to make a real shift in the way we power our country. To dismiss attempts at change because they have a profit interest related to them is to miss the biggest opportunity we’ve had in a generation to improve the environment and our country.”

Pickens energy plan is very expensive

"Pickens Plan Reality Check: Energy Freedom or Farce?". National Geographic. 29 Oct. 2008

“The plan comes with a staggering price tag, even by Pickens’s own estimates: a trillion U.S. dollars in privately funded investments.”

Pickens Plan requires infeasible electric grid upgrades

Kate Galbraith. "Pickens Plan Stirs Debate, and Qualms". New York Times. 5 Aug. 2008

“Despite the high costs, Pickens touts the economic growth the expanded wind farm industry could provide…Even after the farms are built, though, a revamped—and extremely expensive—power grid would be needed…The prime locations for wind farms are in remote regions with limited or no electric infrastructure, so new construction would be needed to provide ways to move electricity from the farms to population centers…Pickens estimates the transmission infrastructure could cost another $200 billion—an effort he likened to the government-funded construction of the U.S. interstate highway system, which kicked off under President Dwight D. Eisenhower.”

Pickens Plan favors technology over better market guidance

John DeCicco, a senior fellow with Environmental Defense – “You can’t pick today what’s going to work in the marketplace tomorrow, the best you can do for policy is to set a general goal in terms of carbon reductions – put a price on carbon – and then let the market sort out what it [the technological solution] is going to be, not Pickens, not President Bush, not Senator so- and so. So, we ultimately believe in the invisible hand, ironically, even though we are environmentalists, rather than throwing a lot of money at some investor or somebody’s favorite solution – that’s the larger message here.”[2]

Pickens Plan relies too heavily on subsidization

Rob Bradley, founder and chairman of IER, issued the following statement – “The Pickens plan relies on special government mandates and subsidies to pick the pockets of American taxpayers and ratepayers…this plan is Robin Hood in reverse: taking from average Americans to subsidize wealthy political entrepreneurs.” [3]

Wind energy: Is Pickens' wind energy proposal a good idea?

Wind energy is a renewable resource than can replace coal

Wind is a renewable resource that relies on the energy of the wind to generate electricity, burning no fuel and contributing no greenhouse gases to the global warming problem. Because wind energy can produce a significant quantity of electricity, in the United States, up to 20% of US electricity demand, it can be a significant renewable replacement of dirty coal. This will make a major contribution to the fight against global warming.

Pickens Plan wind turbines will produce significant energy

Pickens Plan

“The Plan calls for building new wind generation facilities that will produce 20% of our nation’s electricity and allow us to use natural gas as a transportation fuel. The combination of these domestic energies can replace more than one-third of our foreign oil imports. And we can do it all in 10 years.”

Pickens Plan is feasible application of wind technology

"What Pickens Has Right, What He Has Wrong". ClimateProgress. 28 July 2008

“The biggest complaint about wind power — that it is an intermittent resource — can be solved with emerging storage technologies, including plug-in hybrid vehicles that recharge at night when the wind blows best and feed electricity back into the grid during the day when the vehicles are parked at home or work. That brings us to the second part of Pickens’ plan and to Joe’s correct judgment that using natural gas to run vehicles rather than power plants is a bad idea.”

See Debate:Wind energy for more.

Replacing natural gas with inconsistent wind energy is unwise

"Pickens Plan Reality Check: Energy Freedom or Farce?". National Geographic. 29 Oct. 2008

“The inconsistency of wind energy underscores one reason it might not be wise to take natural gas out of the U.S. utilities mix, as the Pickens Plan recommends.”

Wind energy production is inconsistent relative to demand

Mark Landler. "Sweden Turns to a Promising Power Source, With Flaws". New York Times. November 23, 2007

“Sweden’s gleaming wind park is entering service at a time when wind energy is coming under sharper scrutiny, not just from hostile neighbors, who complain that the towers are a blot on the landscape, but from energy experts who question its reliability as a source of power. For starters, the wind does not blow all the time. When it does, it does not necessarily do so during periods of high demand for electricity. That makes wind a shaky replacement for more dependable, if polluting, energy sources like oil, coal and natural gas.”

Wind energy is non-dispatchable

"Pickens Plan Leaves U.S. Energy Security Blowing in the Wind". Institute for Energy Research. 11 Jul. 2008

“Unfortunately, energy consumers can’t tell the wind to blow more when they need more electricity. Typically, the winds blow most consistently in the morning when electricity demand is low, and less during the afternoon when electricity demand is high. The hottest days are the days without wind, leaving the peak load to be met by conventional energies. Reliable operation of the electricity grid requires generation that can be turned on and off the “flip of a switch.” Wind power cannot provide this flexibility.”

Better ways to cut oil consumption than Pickens Plan

Vaclav Smil, a professor of environment at the University of Manitoba in Canada. – “What’s the point of making natural gas cars?…Why not simply drive highly efficient, old-fashioned internal combustion engines? If everybody drove a Honda Civic, we wouldn’t need oil from the Middle East…If everyone used a 97 percent efficient natural gas furnace, we’d be giving natural gas away…That could save much more than Pickens. Within ten years you could use massive natural gas savings to produce clean electricity and then use that to drive all-electric vehicles.”[4]

Wind energy production is often too far from demand

See Debate:Wind energy for more.

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