T. Boone’s Flip-Flop on Wind: Need for RES, Grid Upgrades, and a Memo to Gas Industry That Fracking Is a Dead End

Earlier this week, MSNBC reported that oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens, author of the “Pickens Plan” – to switch America heavily into natural gas and wind power, plus energy efficiency and solar, primarily for national security and economic reasons – is dropping the wind component from the plan. According to the MSNBC report, Pickens will now “focus primarily on his other big business interest: natural gas.”

This is the same T. Boone Pickens who ran expensive TV ads about how America’s goal should be to produce “20% of electricity from wind power in 10 years,” and who traveled around the country saying things like: 1) “We have a beautiful wind corridor from Texas to Canada. And we have an equally beautiful solar corridor from Texas to California;” and 2) “We’re blessed with some of the best wind and solar resources in the world. The Department of Energy estimates that we can produce 22% of our country’s electrical energy needs just by utilizing the wind resource in the Great Plains. And actually, if you wanted to go beyond 22 percent, you could go to 40, 60, 80, whatever you want, because that resource is unlimited.”

Why throw wind power out of the plan when it’s experiencing explosive growth around the world?

1) According to Public Citizen Energy Program Director Tyson Slocum, Pickens “stands to make hundreds of millions of dollars” and “doesn’t see wind personally as a lucrative investment anymore.”

2) According to MSNBC, “Pickens now says Canada is more appealing because the country has renewable energy standards that require energy companies to buy certain amounts of wind power.”

3) Energy Boom notes that “construction of the wind farm was hampered by a lack of transmission lines to transfer the energy to city centers.”

Why the change? What’s different and what’s the same since Pickens ran his TV ads?

  • The legislation for both an RES and also a so-called “Clean Energy Standard” (CES) stalled.
  • The coal and oil industries used the Citizens United decision to buy a Congress filled with people who are either proudly dumb (Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois actually quoted Genesis at a hearing of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment as “evidence” that climate change is not a problem, since ‘The Earth will end only when God declares it’s time to be over”) or who are too bought to worry that China is aggressively promoting its clean energy industry and its domestic clean energy market
  • The need for an upgrade to the stayed the same, and that upgrade will still require an enormous investment.
  • We sent the same or more oil money to foreign dictators who hate America.
  • But, the natural gas industry decided it could get away with contaminating America’s water supplies through fracking and wouldn’t get caught until it was far too late.

It’s hard to say what drove Pickens to change, but it’s also hard to get past the sense that he wasn’t really sincere when he said the Pickens Plan wasn’t about him making money: “I’m 80 years old and have $4 billion. I don’t need any more money.”

Pickens clearly has broken with wind power. But looking at all that noise he made back then, maybe when he talked about helping America he was just breaking wind.