A bone to pick with T. Boone Pickens

Joe Romm, one of the fastest bloggers in the post-typewriter era, was both quick and correct in his analysis of T. Boone Pickens’ energy plan. If you’re reading this, Mr. Pickens, have your people call Joe’s people. You guys need to talk.

Since Pickens’ $58 million ad campaign is likely to be with us for awhile, I’d like to add some thoughts to Joe’s, particularly about the highest and best use of America’s remaining and responsibly recoverable natural gas supplies.

First, my two cents on wind: As Joe points out, Pickens’ wind strategy is on the right track. In effect, the former oilman is proposing that America do what Texas is doing. Texas leads the nation in wind power. In a series of progressive actions in recent years, the state legislature established a renewable energy portfolio standard that was quickly achieved, and put a program in place to identify where the electric grid should be expanded to reach places where the wind blows most. Today, Texas is considering an investment of $6.4 billion to build new transmission capable of moving 17,000 megawatts of new wind power.

Pickens doesn’t want to wait for the bureaucracy. He’s investing $2 billion to build the world’s largest wind farm and plans to pay for the transmission lines that will carry the power from the Texas panhandle to Dallas.

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”.

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.

Because we need to reduce carbon emissions, because we don’t have limitless supplies of domestic oil and gas, and because we would be stupid to allow even more dependence on foreign resources, domestic natural gas should be treated carefully as transition fuel to a sustainable low-carbon economy. Given the growing urgency for climate action, it makes sense to use natural gas, the cleanest of the fossil fuels, to replace coal, the dirtiest.

Pickens’ plan to substitute natural gas for imported oil is consistent with national policy today, but that policy needs to be revised. Natural gas in various forms — liquefied (LNG), compressed (CNG) and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), a byproduct of natural gas production and oil refining — is classified under federal law as one of the fuels we should be using more to cut oil imports.

The Energy Policy Act of 1992 required large fleets to begin converting to a variety of alternative fuels, including natural gas. Today, there are about 130,000 natural gas vehicles (NGVs) on the road in the U.S. New vehicles built to use natural gas exclusively can receive federal tax credits ranging from $2,500 to $32,000, depending on the size of the vehicle. Some refueling capacity already is in place. The U.S. Department of Energy counts 785 refueling sites for CNG, 39 for LNG and more than 2,200 for LPG.

Advocates of NGVs claim that with the right government support, natural gas could displace more than 10 billion gallons of gasoline equivalent by 2017. But given the evolution of electric vehicle technology and renewable power technologies, the question is whether personal transportation is the highest and best use of America’s natural gas supplies.

It’s not. A better plan is to

  1. convert as many as possible of our existing coal-fired power plants to natural gas;
  2. convert our transportation fleet as quickly as possible to high-efficiency, low-emission vehicles powered principally by electricity;
  3. modernize our electric grid to reach and better accommodate wind and solar resources;
  4. launch an economy-wide clean energy surge that, among other things, gives us zero-net-carbon buildings by 2030 to reduce the growth in electricity demand; and
  5. invest in mass transit, high-speed rail and other measures to dramatically reduce the nation’s passenger vehicle miles.

Smarter people than I need to run the numbers, but here are a few reasons why I think natural gas should replace coal while electricity replaces petroleum:

  • Because natural gas produces fewer carbon emissions, utilities will be motivated to use it rather than coal once Congress puts a cap-and-trade regime in place. Assuming that utilities are permitted to trade carbon allowances, they’ll make more money using cleaner fuels;
  • While there are high hopes for technology that will allow new coal plants to capture and store their carbon emissions in the future, existing conventional coal plants remain a substantial source of emissions. To achieve the emission reductions we need and do so quickly, we should begin converting existing coal plants to natural gas rather than depending solely on still-unproven carbon sequestration.
  • Because natural gas is a finite fuel, big investments in new vehicles and fueling infrastructure will be stranded some day as the fuel becomes too expensive to compete with wind, solar and other emerging technologies. That’s a waste of money. It would be better spent on the transition objectives I listed above, including Pickens’ proposal for a massive investment in wind farms through the nation’s midsection and the transmission needed to move the power — an enterprise the Department of Energy estimates will cost $1.2 trillion.

Getting coal out of our power system seems on its face to be an excellent step.

— Bill B.

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51 Responses to A bone to pick with T. Boone Pickens

  1. This thoughtful post is right on the money.

    The only caveat that I can see is something one expert told me, and I don’t have the technical expertise to know the truth of it. And that’s all our investment in li-ion battery technology for PHEVs and EVs is wrong-headed because we have limited supplies of lithium. So we need to invest in new battery technology if we’re going to have the electric vehicles to stabilize the grid.

    Anyone know if that’s actually the case?

    I’m also assuming the airline industry’s days are numbered…

  2. John McCormick says:

    Bill; you said;

    [To achieve the emission reductions we need and do so quickly, we should begin converting existing coal plants to natural gas]

    Bill, why does the U.S. import LNG from Algeria? Can it be that US demand for natural gas is a tad greater than US production?

    It is important to challenge Pickens’ view of his world but he will not be here to reap the hardships of a natural gas-dependent US holding out its hat to LNG shippers.

    The developed world is approaching heart-transplant territory and decisions requiring precision and knowledge of consequences are not fields for amateurs.

    Call in the engineers. Ask them. Environmental advocates are not equipped to rewire the US grid nor make decisions about the future use of natural gas.

    John McCormick

  3. Brewster says:


    I don’t think we’re going to run out of lithium any time soon. Latest research shows we have enough Lithium for 1.58 Billion PHEV’s. I think those quantities will grow even bigger as exploration goes on, and it can be recycled.

    A bigger problem is mining/producing it. There’s never been a strong demand like this, so major production facilities need to be put in place.


  4. hapa says:

    @bill b: you’re ignoring the HVDC distributed supergrid proposal from gore and others. i don’t think “storage” — in whatever form — is the answer to transmission lines built wherever wind developers feel like building them. wind farms need to be balanced against each other across the grid to participate heavily in supply.

    please remember pickens is not trying to replace coal. it also seems to me like he doesn’t want to compete with small or medium local generation, and he doesn’t want to displace anything but oil. his transmission plans are straight lines from source to monopoly market like with other central generation. so don’t try to fit anything into his game plan, don’t accommodate his outlook, except that he wants to build turbines.

  5. john says:

    Great post. I hope folks listen to you and Joe, Bill.

    It’s also worth noting that Boone, who holds a lot of natural gas assets, would prosper if the nation were locked into a transportation infrastructure based on natural gas — we could expect to see a rapid and steep run-up in prices in natural gas as demand ran up against even greater scarcity. It’s already begun, of course, with imported LNG helping to set a new price floor, but following Boone’s plan would recreate the same economic dynamic that we are experiencing with oil.

    In short, this is a great plan for T. Boone; not so good for the US.

  6. Paul says:

    There is ample Natural gas reserves In Haynesville/Bakken shale area in the US…I expect supply to increase dramatically over the next few year thereby keeping natural gas prices under control….I strongly believe that natual gas powered vehicles are the way to now and will eventually send crude oil price back below 60/bbl where it belongs….First step is to start w/ all the government transportation vehicles…

  7. Paul,
    I don’t understand…why does the price of crude oil “belong” under $60/barrel? It took millions of years to produce, it has highly concentrated energy and it’s going to run out at current rates of use within a few decades.

    Sounds like a valuable commodity to me that needs to be priced accordingly, if not higher, given its damaging effects on the atmosphere.

  8. kenlevenson says:

    I’d propose to go one further: we should make renewable generated electricity replace oil, coal and natural gas.

    Yes natural gas is much more efficient than coal – but with natural gas comprising 19% of all man-made ghgs, I think we need to consider bitting the bullet and eliminating as much natural gas usage as possible, along with reduced oil and coal.

    If the goal is to reduce ghg emissions we can’t give a pass on one of the biggest contributors. Let’s commit to renewables – Gore is on the right track, but we must go further still.

  9. MoreInfo says:

    Vestas has a blade plant in Windsor, and late last week it was reported that the City of Brighton was excited about a potential land sale with Vestas for another blade plant, however the tower plant location has not been announced. Do you know something the rest of us don’t?

  10. Gerald Shields says:

    You missed the point of Picken’s plan. He’s basically wants to divert the 22% of the electricity that being generated via CNG to transportation.

  11. Bill I says:

    Natural Gas…
    It truly cannot be classified as a fossil fuel, Natural gas is created every time a cow eats grass, natural gas is created by bacteria, natural gas seeps from our garbage piles…
    I drive a NGV, a Honda CIvic GX. I get 39 MPG, recently paid $1.80/gallon in Vegas (it is currently $.80/gallon in Utah!!!), and drive apx 35K miles per year.
    We need the infrastructure of Natural Gas stations. They need to be placed near highways, currently most CNG stations are either behind County buildings, in Gas Company parking lots, or hidden from sight a block or 2 off of main streets. If people were to see the prices at the CNG stations, there would be a huge amount of interest in the gas as an alternative to gasoline.
    Pickens is right, replace our coal and natural gas power plants with solar and wind, use Methane (Natural gas) to power our transportation (like they have in Saudi Arabia and Iran…), and we can solve our problems of supply, cost and CO2 pollution.
    The reason that oil companies do not want you to use Methane is that is so cheap, there is very little refinement other than drying, so they cannot gouge the end user with refinement costs. Plus, the fact that every city has their own supply, the garbage dump along with other sources, so they do not have the the monopoly they have with gasoline.
    Electric vehicles…. until the battery has been developed that will not be highly toxic to the environment, is recyclable, and low in cost, it is foolish to propose electric vehicles as an immediate replacement for our transportation.
    Methane (Natural gas), exists in quantities that would last our needs for thousands of years. It will make a suitable transition fuel that is low in emissions, and low in cost. We need to start building the infrastructure of gas stations now! Automobile technology currently supports Natural gas, it is an easy conversion. And, if you have natural gas at your house… you have a gas station at home… for $1.30/gallon…

  12. RhapsodyInGlue says:

    I also question whether a nationwide switch to natural gas autos makes sense. However, living in Southern Cal, natural gas might be a very attractive alternative, where it would provide an added benefit of dramatically reducing pollution.

    A push to promote natural gas cars in CA could be combined with a push to promote heat pumps for space heating rather than gas furnaces. Heat pumps would reduce GHG emissions compared to natural gas and moderate winter lows make them feasible in much of California. Not to mention that a new generation of heat pumps is being developed to work in colder climates. Solar water heating could also save a lot of gas which could be utilized for autos.

    While I understand the argument that from a climate perspective reducing the use of coal would take precedence compared to switching autos to NG… but the damage being done to the U.S. economy from such a huge trade deficit is real and will reduce our economy’s ability to address climate change.

  13. Bill I says:

    One other thing…
    I bought my Honda Civic GX nearly 2 years ago.
    Paid 25.5K out the door, but with the AQMD (Air Quality Management District) rebate ($4.5K) and the Federal tax credit (>$4K), I actually paid less than the cost of a base Honda Civic.
    Why don’t people know this…

  14. pinhead says:

    why don’t hybrids and/or electric cars have solar panel roofs? The vehicles could recharge during the day when the drivers are inside working.

  15. Bazarov says:

    Bill I says, “until the battery has been developed that will not be highly toxic to the environment, is recyclable, and low in cost, it is foolish to propose electric vehicles as an immediate replacement for our transportation.” The implication is that lithium-ion batteries, which currently represent the most promising battery technology for transportation applications, are toxic and non-recyclable, and cost too much. What is the truth, if any, behind this?

    Bill I also makes the questionable statement that natural gas “truly cannot be classified as a fossil fuel” since “natural gas is created every time a cow eats grass, natural gas is created by bacteria, natural gas seeps from our garbage piles…” While he may be technically correct, how much of the methane created by cows and garbage piles is recoverable for commercial applications? Doesn’t the vast majority of the commercially useful natural gas supply have to come from fossil deposits?

  16. Pinhead,
    Right now solar panels on the roof of a passenger car cannot generate enough energy to recharge the batteries. Toyota is currently talking about a Plug-In Prius with a solar roof in which the roof solar will be used to power the car’s air conditioner. That’s about all the power you could generate from that size roof space.
    But charging your plug-in via solar is a great idea. You just need a solar panel covered garage or a solar carport and then you’d have free fuel for life for your electric engine.

  17. chris says:

    Do something big and do it now. Real change doesn’t happen without making real changes. That means changing a lot and changing it quickly.

    The cycle is simple: reduce energy consumption, produce more sustainable energy, repeat. That means phasing out fossil fuel, phasing in renewable energy, AND reducing the consumption of energy overall.

    That means putting a hard limit on energy consumption and doing all that is necessary to stick to it.

    Getting cars off of gasoline is important, but getting cars off the road is probably more important.

    It is imperative that we get The Grid to the point of sustainability, but the goal is more attainable if you also work to get more buildings OFF The Grid.

    That means increasing public mass transit, but it also means getting those diesel trucks off the road and that diesel powered farm equipment out of the fields. If you can’t run a business on electric trucks and tractors, you need go out of business.

    That means solar, wind, hydroelectric and nuclear power, but it also means energy efficient homes and appliances that require less electricity.

    You could convert every car on the highway to electric today and it won’t make a bit of difference until transportation and agriculture follow suit as well. That means changing the transportation system and changing agriculture. That means growing stuff and making stuff closer to the population centers where it is consumed so there is less transport. That means stop making things over seas and shipping it here. That means stop flying around the country to conduct business.

    People travel so much because they live so far away from jobs, schools, and families. There needs to be a way to put people closer to the things they need and want so there is less travel and transportation overall.

    Everything needs to change, and it needs to change now.

  18. Rich Greer says:

    With respect to natural gas powered vehicles. I’m an old farmer and LP tractors were quite common about 50 years ago. I’ve never personally owned one and they never became real popular. Nonetheless, they were known to be clean and reliable. Orchard owners were particularly fond of them because exhaust from conventional tractors was harmful to the orchards.

    We are not talking about “new technology” here. However, I’m sure there have been significant advances in natural gas engines.

  19. D. E. MANWELL says:

    Even though solar panels on car roofs could not recharge a whole depleted traction batterie, they could contribute. With this in mind, they should be used, along with other sources, such as the grid, during the night. Garage roof solar panels could be excellent contributors too.

    As the grid is used this way, it should be intensively supplemented with wind power; Pickens is right to develop that.

    Since most NG does come from fossil sources (deep underground), its carbon is not a current contributor to the atmosphere, and therefore is an atmospheric warmer (climate changer). So NG is best not used at all (w/ apologies to Pickens).

  20. Frank says:

    Good conversation! It’s good to see people not taking the Pickens Plan at initial face value. John is correct. T. Boone’s companies, Mesa Petroleum (one of largest producers of natural gas) and Clean Energy (the largest provider of vehicular natural gas in N. America), would profit substantially if the Pickens Plan was put into action. While this may not be reason enough to disuade some, it makes me question Pickens’s motives for pushing his plan.

    Also, Pickens’s politics have only gone apolitical recently, in order to seek billions in tax breaks and government subsidies to pay for his wind farm and the construction of power infrastructure. Not everyone would look kindly on the fact that he contributed almost exclusively to Republican campaigns and gave $3 million to the Swift Boat Vets in 2004 that attacked John Kerry’s military record.

  21. mayzebra says:

    At least he’s trying something. I’m emmensly proud of him… makes me wish I had billions to pour into new energy.

  22. stratocruiser says:

    The most important thing to do in transportation is to break our reliance on the internal combustion engine. Batteries, high-speed flywheels, fuel cells, whatever it takes.
    One thing that i’ve never heard anyone discuss (maybe it is so obvious it goes without saying) is how much heat is released in combustion. So far, the main issue with oil consumption is that it releases greenhouse gases. It does do that, but the burning of some 80 million barrels of oil every day has also got to release a lot of just plain old heat. Is it significant?
    I’m not enough of a physicist (like not at all) to run the numbers to see if the heat release is signoficant.

  23. R. Ashton says:

    McCain is right about one thing, but he is too ignorant to even know it. In addition to having more wind power and more solar cells, we should also have a federal law that encourages nuclear power, as McCain says, but McCain doesn’t know that there is a nuclear design that is safe and can be produced on a production line: it is the pebble bed reactor. Pebble beds are not capable of melting down, so a 3-Mile Island-type accident is impossible. If there is a malfunction of the plant, essentially nothing happens. The plant’s operator can takes days, or weeks, to decide what to do, because there is no explosion, no meltdown, no release of radiation, no crisis. The plant just shuts itself down. Another point is that, like most other nuclear plants today, the pebble bed doesn’t use HEU {highly enriched uranium}, which is important because if HEU is stolen it can be used to make an atomic bomb. The nuclear material in a pebble bed is essentially useless to terrorists, even if they succeeded in stealing it. In addition, there is a method for disposing of nuclear waste in a perfectly safe manner, and one that doesn’t require guards. But, since this method invented in 1979 is inexpensive, in fact costs only 1% of the Yucca Mountain boondoggle, the federal government won’t explore it, because the CONTRACTORS won’t get a $200 billion to $400 billion bonanza, as they would with Yucca Mountain. *** If we use these American-invented innovations in nuclear plant technology and nuclear waste disposal, we would have ULTRA-SAFE reasonably priced electricity and we would emit less than 1% of the greenhouse gases emitted by coal fired plants. The fact is that, even with today’s outdated reactor designs, coal fired plants create far more deaths and health problems than nuclear reactors. The last known death from radiation emitted by a US nuclear plant was 29 years ago at Three-Mile Island Pennsylvania. Every day Americans breathe in mercury from coal plants, and, in some states, over a ten year period children breathe in thousands of times the amount of mercury they would absorb from vaccines. This problem is especially horrendous in East Coast states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. Yet, almost no one is aware of this issue, because if you get a health problem, even an ultimately fatal one, you cannot trace it back to the pollution you breathed in for years from multiple plants in multiple states. Allocating blame is impossible. *** Also, if we don’t replace coal with nuclear, thousands in America and hundreds of thousands in other countries will die from future flooding and hurricanes cause by global warming, and more will die from destruction cause by rising sea levels. It is true that, even if we take these steps, many of these deaths will occur, because we cannot control China, and China surpassed America one year ago as a global warming polluter. Now China is the worst, and we are second. But we must do our part for our own citizen’s health, and the health of the Earth, and hope China wakes up in the next decade. *** Environmentalists who are aware of these facts and of how good these new safe technologies are are converting to a pro-nuclear stance, but unfortuantely few are yet aware of the truth.

  24. Earl Killian says:

    Gerald Shields said, “You missed the point of Picken’s plan. He’s basically wants to divert the 22% of the electricity that being generated via CNG to transportation.

    This is a really stupid idea. An internal combustion engine converts NG into work at about 20% efficiency. A NGCC power plant can convert this into electricity, ship it over the grid, charge and discharge batteries at approximately 48% efficiency. Thus you can drive 2.5 times as many miles on NG using plug-in cars as you can by burning it in an engine.

  25. Earl Killian says:

    Bill I said, “Electric vehicles…. until the battery has been developed that will not be highly toxic to the environment, is recyclable, and low in cost, it is foolish to propose electric vehicles as an immediate replacement for our transportation.

    Please don’t post misinformation. Batteries are already recyclable and adequate for plug-in vehicles.

  26. Earl Killian says:

    The right use of PV for cars is not on the car roof, but on the carport roof. A carport roof can be oriented toward the sun, and efficiently generate electricity. It can be larger than a car roof, and generate greater quantities of energy. It also shades the parking area, reducing car A/C usage. Such carports exist already, and they work great. Forget car roofs, and think parking lot instead.

  27. POLINUT says:

    Gallon for gallon, the FACT is that even at today’s prices, we pay less for gas than we do for coffee or bottled water at Starbucks. Sure the prices suck, but the price of oil is not yet irrational. That said, I’ll be signing up for an electric car as soon as they are rationally priced.

  28. Capitalist Pig says:

    The only problem with all of these solutions is that the wealthy get richer. Why would they want to invest if once they get rich, we take the money away from them. The environmentalists will not allow the transmission lines to be built because of the square spotted owl. Finally, electricity cannot be run clear across the country. That is the reason for the current grid layout.

  29. Capitalist Pig says:

    One more comment, electric cars are a great solution. However, how will the person making barely above minimum wage afford the new vehicle to replace their current gas guzzler?

  30. John Hollenberg says:

    > In addition to having more wind power and more solar cells, we should also have a federal law that encourages nuclear power

    Much of what you say is true, but the big problem with nuclear power is that it costs too much. Thus, it should be way down the list of carbon neutral (or very low carbon) power sources.

  31. The Sneak says:

    Great post, enjoyable and informative. The one bone I would pick is the directive to invest in mass transit to “dramatically reduce the nation’s passenger car miles.” Not that I object to the concept, but the reality is, people love their cars, and that’s not going to change any time soon. I’d be the first guy to get on board but unless you can promise that the train/bus/monorail won’t be packed full of sweaty commuters, then 95 out of 100 people are going to prefer going to work in the privacy of their own cars. Of course, if you could promise sparse crowds, the whole concept wouldn’t be working anyway…

  32. D. E. MANWELL says:

    Mr. Killian: For mounting PV, why not use both cartop and car port roof? Why leave out either?

    To Mr. Ashton: You do seem to have offered a workable approach to averting nuclear meltdowns, in your pebble-bed user of unenriched uranium (in that ability, is it essentially CANDU-based?). However, reactor-grade enriched fuel is hardly material for terroreists’ city-busting bombs; isn’t it still much too dilute in fissile material (the uranium-235)?

    Wouldn’t terrorists have much greater interest in the “waste” plutonium 239 that fission of U-235, in the presence of U-238 moderating material to absorb neutron radiation, makes? As U-238 nucleii absorb neutrons, their atomic mass increases by one, changing them to a new element, Pu-239. All of this is fissile. Purification needs only chemical separation; not the complex multiple centrifuging, nor especially the long, involved gaseous diffussion that our 1945 bomb-making used. Pu-239 is already how Pakistan and North Korea have made their atomic bombs.

    Can it be avoided by merely deploying so-called “breeder” reactors? They require more handling of the substance, thus increasing risk of theft. They beg questions of transportation and commerce of it — an even greater risk. Films show transport containers “surviving” a perfectly symetrical crash but, even assuming they did, crashes are not usually conveniently symetrical, and even more desrtructive when not! “Cleared” crash sites, long after commotions had subsided, would be excellent picking grounds for those with such interests.

    Pu-239’s half-life is about 24,000 years; there will always be only half gone of what there was 24,000 years earlier. What you aptly called, “the Yucca Mountain boondoggle” would not long be able to contain this geologically long-lived toxin. Yes it’s desert but, over such periods, geological evidence shows that many currently rainy areas were once desert. Easily, within the first 1/2-life, mountains upwind of Yucca, whose height now keeps Yucca dry, would erode from their own rainfall. Yucca would become increasingly rainy. Overlying rock, whose porosity is not perfectly known, could let in more and more of it. Some of this would dissolve the Pu; where would it go? It would flow out of the cave; it could seep through its floor; enter rivers; and from either it could enter human bodies via wells. Typically, such events aren’t even disacovered before clusters of related illnesses (mostly cancers and/or mutagenic birth defects in this case) are noticed in populations living downstream of a likely source. If storing Pu-239, Yucca would be that. Then, what could be done? Pu-239 is the most toxic material known to modern medicine!

    Even as bad as global warming’s consequences are (and they’re horrible), it’s at least reversible, though we definitely should avoid it (and I won’t quite say “at all costs”).

    Though moderation is ordinarily best, uunder climate change’s acceleration, maybe not. We need more wind deployment as fast, large, and high as possible. Greater legal lenincy would speed it.

  33. Tony C. SA TX says:

    As a Texan, I’d like to note that Picken’s plan is both green and a classic greedy cram-down. Yes, wind is better, blah blah. But please note, Pickens filed to build 2800 windmills and is reportedly spending $2billion of his own money, about $715K per windmill, maybe $725K with the land leases. (That is high; the hardware costs about $150,000, foundation, transportation, installation and wiring another $200,000, so this is about twice the retail rate for a windmill).

    Each windmill generates in a year as much energy as 12,000 barrels of oil, which is worth about $1.5M. So Picken’s plan is to buy an asset that pays for itself every six months for a hundred years. And while he may be investing $2B, he also just crammed through the Texas legislature a $4.9B tax bill to make us pay for his transmission lines; not a bad return on a few million in political hay.

    And the result of all this? Pickens is also busy stacking the political deck to prevent regulation of his electric pricing, has managed to give himself eminent domain rights to seize private property, and my guess is to eventually extort the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, Houston, and San Antonio for the electricity he generates in the Panhandle.

    For Pickens, wind power is “green” in more ways than one. He says the midwest corridor is the Saudi Arabia of wind power, and he is right. We have more gross wind power potential than any other country on Earth, and he plans to own it.

    His commercials are all factual and true, but don’t be fooled by them into thinking Picken’s is running a charity! Both this $4.9B tax bill (five times any investment he has made so far and 100% to his benefit) along with his eminent-domain seizing of property to build the water/electric channel from his wind farm to Dallas and his market pricing of electricity to Dallas are all arm-twisting political and business tactics. This is what we call a cram down in business.

  34. Timm says:

    As with so many things, this whole discussion has grown from the basic belief in a singular conclusion: the planet is warming because of human activity producing carbon. We actually know the opposite, that an increase in global temperature causes increases in carbon…not the Al Gore interpretation. Josef Goebbels said it so well.. [snip]

    [JR: Actually, warming releases carbon in which produces more warming and so on. That’s why we call it an amplifying feedback. Next time, be better informed.]

  35. John Hollenberg says:

    > We actually know the opposite, that an increase in global temperature causes increases in carbon…not the Al Gore interpretation.

    Debunked here:

    PS Joe, please remove this long-debunked nonsense.

  36. Scott Harris says:

    While I would prefer we move directly to an ‘electron economy’ based around plug-in hybrid electrics and straight electrics, I’m not sure that the battery technology is quite mature enough for that to be realistic either in terms of individual utility or being able to ramp production enough. In the meantime, CNG or methane is quite suitable as an *interim* replacement for imported oil in much of our transportation fleet, and might even have a longer-lasting role as part of a ‘methane economy’, at least so long as the energy density of compressed methane or methanol in a tank remains higher than that of a comparable battery.

    First of all, it’s going to take quite a while to build up a fleet of electric or even hybrid vehicles. Secondly, to the extent that new vehicles are hybrids rather than pure electrics, they’ll still need to burn *something* in their internal combustion engines. On balance, CNG/methane is a cleaner burning fuel with somewhat lower carbon emissions per unit of energy extracted (since part of the combustion is combining hydrogen with oxygen to make water), but most importantly one that we know very well how to use in vehicles, store at filling stations, etc. It’s a more realistic option than using hydrogen (whatever the origin of that hydrogen), in that it is far easier to store and transport. Converting a significant fraction of the fleet to CNG would be orders of magnitude cheaper than going electric, even though the latter is where we want to get to eventually.

    Another point is that methane doesn’t need to be derived from fossil sources. There’s biomethane that would otherwise eventually go into the atmosphere as a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and there’s also the prospect of using the Fischer-Tropsch or Sabatier processes to synthesize methane as a carbon-neutral energy storage medium. Everything you’ve ever read about a ‘hydrogen economy’, where hydrogen is extracted from water via electrolysis and used for fuel? It actually works better with methane, which we can actually contain in pipelines and fuel tanks without massive leakage or exotic technologies, or methanol (wood alcohol), which can be made using similar processes and burns almost like diesel. So long as the energy density of these fuels is greater than that of any available battery, these will be attractive ways to store peak energy (i.e., when the wind is blowing, the sun is shining, and there’s an excess of energy being delivered over what’s demanded) in a reusable form, whether it be used for transportation fuel or in our current natural gas-fired power plants that we might still need to maintain base power load.

    True, in the interim we’d still be burning a good bit of natural gas derived from fossil fuel sources. However, to the extent that we massively build up solar, wind, geothermal sources, rebuild the grid, and perhaps most importantly use energy more efficiently, we should still be able to rapidly replace a good portion of *both* coal and natural gas’s contributions to our electricity supply.

  37. drew says:

    Something that you don’t touch on (that I think should be in an article entitled “A bone to pick with T. Boone Pickens”) is the other part of his plan for those transmission lines. It involves building a water pipe from his acreage in the panhandle to Dallas to sell water that he’s pumping from the Ogallala Aquifer (the basically non-replenishable aquifer that supplies the vast majority of agricultural irrigation to from Texas to Nebraska, or ~30% of all irrigated agricultural land in the country). He’s doing so through his company, Mesa Water, which used his land and 10 companies employees who “reside” on that land to create a water management district, which under Texas law can pump all the water they want from under his land (which, remember, is sucking water from hundreds of miles north) and can use eminent domain to seize property to build a pipeline to Dallas so that Pickens can make a few more billion.

    A few resources: – PopMech article about the plans. – Pickens water company. – An environmentalists take on the deal. – A close look from a different perspective. *Note* According to the article, Pickens wants to pump water as a “defensive measure” because he’s afraid another group is going to drain the water from under his land (the same thing he wants to do to everyone else…) and then is quoted as saying “Now it comes down to finding somebody to buy the water.” – More of an emphasis on the use eminent domain, but certainly a good insight into his motives for this whole deal. – The aquifer in question

    In my opinion, this is a much, much bigger deal than Natural Gas vs. Electricity for cars, especially considering the quality, stylish plug-in hybrids (and fully electric cars) coming out in the very, very near future. His dealings are having an impact far beyond renewable energy, delving into all sorts of politics and personal and property rights issues that are going to be around long after we’ve made a decision on electrical power production.

  38. brendan says:

    A good post/article, but a quibble that will eventually be a big deal: yes, ngas is a fossil fuel, but no, unlike every other fossil/carbon fuel, it is NOT finite. it is the only one that is renewable. biomethane is increasingly be ing created in digesters, etc., or captured from landfills and other biomass sinks, and is either being used on site to produce electricity (usually with micro turbines) or substituted for other fuels for heating or similar on-site uses. AND, more and more, being finished off for vehicle fuel. there are now thousands of vehicles in the world powered by landfill gas, for example. as a rule, the vehicles using it are converting from dirty, avyma-inducing, glacier melting diesel. heavy duty vehicles, usually. but many passenger cars, for example, Honda’s cng car, can and do run on methane/cng captured from biological processes.
    these uses have the dual benefits of substituting a renewable fuel for oil, but also they capture methane that was otherwise destined to reach the atmosphere, and as we know, methane is about 21 times as potent a greenhouse gas as is CO2.
    Boone is right, even if not for exactly the reasons he puts forward.

  39. brendan says:

    oops, that was supposed to say’asthma-inducing.’ sorry about that –brendan

  40. Bill I says:

    The use of Methane for transportation is something that has been occurring around the world, and we in the USA are far behind. There are over 8 million CNG vehicles worldwide, and only 122,000 in the US! General Motors makes 19 models of cars that run on Compressed Natural Gas, but sells none of them in the USA. Honda is the only car maker that sells a CNG auto to the consumer in the USA.

    Methane is a great short term patch for our energy and pollution problems. There are big issues with Lithium Ion Batteries and their toxic waste (this is not “mis-information”, as claimed previously), and until we have battery technology that is truly green, which will hopefully be in the very near future, it is not as good a solution as CNG for transportation.

    The greenest car on the road is not the Prius… it is the Honda Civic GX.
    The cheapest car to operate on the road is not the Prius…it is the Honda Civic GX.

  41. Tom Jorgens says:

    The use of natural gas to run electric power plants, excepting purely back-up and emergency generation, is and has been a truly bad idea. It is indeed hard to believe that anyone could be naive enough to expand it.

    The growing use of natural gas for electrical generation is directly responsible for the superheated heating bills Americans will pay this winter. For some that will mean going without or being cold this winter, for those in the country’s hotter climates it will mean sweltering in the heat waves. Millions of people can’t pay these outrageous prices, and many more millions will have to cut out or cut back other necessities to pay their bills this foolishness is causing.

    Wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, clean coal and even new generation nuclear (with reprocessing) make far more sense!

    Pickens has put forth a great set of ideas, and natural gas is a great clean way to transition cars from the old hydrocarbons to hybrid and electric
    vehicles. We need to cleverly use all sources, especially conservation, to get where we need to go.

  42. Bob Sandusky says:

    I just read my sister’s contract from Pickens to lease her farmland for wind generated electricity. I’m not a lawyer, but the devil is in the details. The previous contract she got had a clause that converted her rights to leave the assests of the lease to T.Boone’s heirs and assigns, not hers. That caused such a stink that they rewrote the contract and tried again.

    This time there are two little insignificant phrases that can make the whole wind generation project a sham. First all underground and above ground leases permit the installation of “other utilities”. Those not being described. And another phrase that allows the Pickens organization to sublet the right-of-way to whomever HE chooses.

    So, since Texas has created a water district over the area in Roberts County where T Boone “just happens” to have most of the water rights bought up, and since with that water district comes the right to exercise eminent domain for pipline right of way; the question arises how does the Pickens water venture benefit from the wind venture in the exact same area?

    Well it is simple. Pickens doesn’t have to erect one wind turbine generator or do any gas or electric transmission to make a killing. All he has to do is sublet the right-of-way to the water district for their pipeline. They take the expense of installation and he collects for the sub-lease of the use of the underground right-of-way. He then pays the landowners a much lower price for the primary rent and pockets the difference. Then, of course, he sells his water to the water district who sends it to Dallas over his right-of-way. And if the landowner doesn’t want to lease to Pickens? Well, the water district will take the right-of-way by eminent domain!

    The (not rich) farmers and landowners who are hoping for some income from the wind generation to help them keep their farms will be surprised to find out that all they have is a discounted lease of their right-of-way which T Boone can leverage into a huge profit by only doing a lot of talk and paying fees to some sharp and sneaky lawyers!

    Farmers & Landowners, DON’T SIGN! Or at least talk to the competition before you do.

  43. Robert Lewis says:

    Since we could not find a vehicle registered for T. Boone Pickens, the oil man on television, see what vehicle his wife drives

  44. Duane Wood says:

    I,m afraid I’ll have to disagree with the critical article regarding Pickens Plan. Using natual gas in power plants is like using good scotch to wash dishes. We would achive a substantial reduction in carbon emissions by using it in vehicles. It also could act as a stepping stone for hydrogen since hydrogen could use much of the CNG infrastructure.
    Electric cars still have a problem with range that will continue into the forseeable future. Some have said the electric car is the car of the future and always will be. Wishful thinking will not solve our energy problems. Pickens plan will get us on track to move forward.

  45. Chredon says:

    I don’t think we should be so quick to eliminate coal as an alternative if it can be made cleaner. The US has large quantities of coal, and using it would take us off Saudi Arabia’s client list. That having been said, though, I think it is in our BEST interests to move everything we can to renewable resources. Wind and solar have great potential not only because they are clean, but because you don’t have to buy fuel for them. There is also great potential in moving water – generators in rivers, tidal basins, etc. You don’t need Hoover Dam anymore to generate hydroelectric power, all you need is running water.

    It’s going to be hard to convince the industry to build a CNG distribution network if they know that they’re only one battery breakthrough away from uselessness. But most cities already have natural gas distribution for home heating. Why not just put a pipe in your garage, connect your car, and fill up from there? In my house the water heater uses natural gas, and guess where it is? Right, it’s in the garage! Convenient, isn’t it?

    As for Pickens’ Plan, I can tell you that there isn’t a billionaire on Earth who is going to raise a finger to save the planet unless he’s figured out a way to make money off it. Remember, early in the Bush Administration, they ditched research into batteries and solar and concentrated on Fuel Cells. Why? Because Fuel Cells require hydrogen distribution, which would replace gasoline distribution, and still allow the used-to-be oil companies to control the supply and manipulate the market.

  46. Bill Becker says:

    As I read these responses, I realized I was not clear enough about how I suggest we make best use of natural gas (of the petroleum variety). I proposed that we use natural gas to back out coal in EXISTING coal plants. If we employ low-carbon or no-carbon resources for new power generation, as we should, we still have the problem of carbon missions from current conventional coal plants. I’m told it’s impractical to convert a conventional pulverized coal plant to clean coal technology, if and when clean coal technology comes on-line. Jim Hansen’s latest work leads me to conclude that we need to back out of all conventional coal as quickly as possible. That means constructing no more conventional generating plants and, ideally, phasing out coal in the plants that already are, or soon will be, in operation. As I implied in the post, we need to crunch the numbers to know what our use of natural gas would mean, in whatever sector, for additional drilling and imports.

  47. Chredon says:

    And a follow-up on my post: there is already a home-use item called a Phill – it compresses natural gas from your utility lines and loads it into the car. It’s expensive (~$4000), but the compressed gas from your utility line is less expensive than the gas sold at public stations, so you’ll recoup eventually. And many places have tax breaks or rebates on them. The other issue is that they are slow – it compresses one gallon per half hour. But that’s still fast enough for an overnight fill-up.

  48. RhapsodyInGlue says:


    To answer your question about the heat generated in burning fossil fuels… it is a very small fraction of the amount of energy reaching the earth from the sun. This is the fact that makes solar and wind (both a result of the suns energy) so viable as an alternative. The total reaching the earth is vastly larger than the amount of energy contained in all the fossil fuels we burn.

    So the heat directly generated by combustion would likely be lost in the uncertainty of climate models and is thus probably not included.

  49. Brooks says:

    I entirely endorse the plan put forward here. Moving all cars onto the electric grid and cleaning up electricity production should be the core of any policy. Indeed, Pickens Plan is a welcome step on the wind front, but digresses on the natural gas vehicles front. You may want to have a look at the pros and cons of the Pickens plan we’ve aggregated on Debatepedia:

  50. Wind Power says:

    I was just looking for something like this last week!