Sunday, August 24, 2008

T. Boone Pickens' New Ad: What Do You Think of His Plan?

Texas oil tycoon and billionaire T. Boone Pickens just released his new ad for the Pickens Plan, which calls for 20 percent of our nation's electricity to come from wind power. That 20 percent wind will then free up the natural gas that we currently use for electricity so that we can use it to fuel our cars. This, he believes, will wean us off our dependency on foreign oil and make America more secure.

I know lots of folks agree with Pickens on the wind part but are uncertain about the natural gas plan. This new ad (see below) is interesting because - in addition to assuring viewers that he's for oil drilling, with the caveat that we need to get past oil because it's going to eventually run out - he's specifically talking about natural gas as a "bridge" fuel between oil and something more sustainable (efficient biofuels or electric cars, for example). (Update and full disclosure: The public relations firm I work for, Tunheim Partners, is working with the Pickens campaign on various grassroots efforts in Minnesota and North Dakota)

Does this assuage your concerns about the Pickens Plan? Or do you think the natural gas part is still folly? I'm personally undecided on the natural gas part of the plan but am 100 percent behind the push for wind and wind infrastructure (transmission lines, etc.).


JT said...

His plan is self serving. He purchased the land for wind and needs a market and government incentives to make it work. Wind is a good source but it should not be given preferential treatment above solor or cellulosic ethanol.

Maria Surma Manka said...

Hi JT! Pickens certainly has a monetary interest in ramping up wind power, but that doesn't concern me, to tell you the truth. I want to move this country away from fossil fuels, towards clean energy independence and slow global warming. Wind power is part of that equation and if a billionaire wants to push the dialogue and make money off of it, I'm all for it.

Anonymous said...

I see one big problem: you don't just switch over the capacity to generate 20% of electricity from natural gas. What happens to that capacity? You keep using it, especially because coal plants aren't being approved. So, if anything, the natural gas electricity will stay the same, wind might start taking a dent in coal, and investments in so called clean coal vehicles will increase.

But going to natural gas is just less bad.

I think we may continue to see natural gas with the buses because it's cleaner than gas, etc., but ng cars won't get far. We're going to see electrical cars and more hybrids starting in 2010 and hopefully people will invest in geothermal and solar to power/charge such technologies.

I also think it's dangerous to think of investments in natural gas vehicles and the like as a bridge play, though. Infrastructural type investments tend to take a long time to work themselves out. What, we invest in natural gas fillup stations, cars, etc., for five years and then just abandon all of them for electrical cars? No way. People will still use them.

The Pickens' Plan should just be a straight forward play for wind. All this other macro level talk of displacing this for that has a weird feel to it. The natural gas discussion feels so forced, especially with smart grids, electrical vehicles, cheaper solar, small wind, geothermal, and the like making such big advances.

Justin Ware -- Bentz Whaley Flessner said...

Good points, Preston. My question is, why would we have to abandon natural gas for vehicles after five years? Better hybrids and plug-in models will be great, but there will still need to be a fuel source to generate that electricity. Either from the electric grid in the form of wind, solar, clean coal, nuclear, etc. ...or, natural gas at the pump.

Using natural gas to provide the extra power in a hybrid vehicle that gets the equivalent of 60 mpgs would be a massive upgrade from what most of us are driving right now. If that (60-mpg equivalent NG cars) became the norm for American drivers, biofuels (specifically biodiesel) could be used solely for shipping and the rest of our renewable energy could be focused on generating electricity for homes and business.

Anybody know what that wouldn't work? Seriously, I'd like to hear other arguments.

Anonymous said...

Wow... well, with the price of natural gas going up astronomically this winter, I would think any transportation plan hinging on natural gas would be a nonstarter. (I say this as a new homeowner with a brand new gas water heater, and a stove and heating system powered by natural gas. Hooray.)

Thaidiamond said...

One way I get my head around this whole energy problem is to divide energy into two broad categories: electrical generation and transportation.

America currently uses only oil for some 2% of all its electrical generation. So even if we could tomorrow magically get all our “juice” from say solar and/or wind, it would hardly make a dent in our imported oil bill.

The problem is all the oil we import for the transportation sector. About 96% of the $700 billion dollars per year America transferred abroad is buying fossil fuels used in transportation.

Pragmatic Pickens looks at the pie chart on the electrical side of energy equation and sees that if we could replace the 22% of electricity that comes from natural gas – mostly a domestic source of energy – and transfer that in the transportation sector, we could reduce our oil imports some 38% or $300 billion a year. That’s not chump change.

And he wants to do this as expeditiously as possible. He not against electric vehicles or biofuels, but as no one can predict when they would be available at commercial production levels, he sees natural gas as the “bridge” technology we could employ now.

Natural gas is a cleaner and more efficient that traditional gasoline or diesel. This is not new technology: there are some 8 million such vehicles on the road today.

T. Boone also states that most of that conversion would be mostly done at the industrial level, i.e. trucks, buses, and other large fleet transportation vehicles. Individual passenger cars would be secondary and voluntary. Again, pragmatism: the reduce fuel costs of LNG affords a conversion with a reasonably quick payback period for fleet operators. And long haul trucking consumes huge amounts of oil.

The important thing about the PickensPlan today is that it’s increasingly driving the political agenda. He wants a 100-day plan from whomever occupies the White House next January.

That takes us back to part one of the PP: wind generation.

Remember that the Achilles heel about renewable power sources like wind is its intermittency. You need two things to reduce that: energy storage and/or a robust grid.

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) has the deployment of a robust modern national grid as one its top priorities if wind power is ever to take a significant slice of the electrical pie chart.


Look at the U.S. where you’ve got some 200,000 miles of power lines divided among 500 owners. Big transmission upgrades often involve multiple companies, many state governments and numerous permits. Which to often result in no go’s.

You may have heard about Denmark’s 20% wind penetration levels -- the highest in the world. What’s behind the headlines, is that Danish wind power is exported FREE to Germany which acts as a big battery.

Try to do that with America’s fragmented and localized grid. As the NYT just reported, the Maple Ridge wind farm near Lowville, N.Y has been forced to shut down when regional electric lines become congested. (

The dirty secret of clean energy is that while generating it is getting easier, moving it to market is not.

Given the balkanization of American politics, whenever you get a life long Republican in Pickens and a career Democrat in Gore agreeing that America must modernize its grid, it probably means it's going to happen.

So I’m watching storage and grid technologies and the companies that will provide them.

And yes...with lots of "self interest."

Maria Surma Manka said...

Great points, thaidiamond. Transmission, transmission, transmission is the less sexy cousin of renewable energy but I think we're at the stage now where we have to be talking about it. We can build renewables, but they will not come to us unless we build transmission lines to move their power.