Once upon a time oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens conjured up a plan to build the world’s biggest wind farm in the Texas panhandle. The so-called Pickens Plan imagined that 20% of American power could be derived from wind, with natural gas used for transportation.That dream has been slowly eroding over the years–first Pickens replaced it with a new plan that would scatter smaller wind farms across the Midwest, then with an entirely new plan last year that would install 300 turbines in Minnesota and Canada. But those turbines are the last of Pickens’ involvement in renewable energy; the billionaire tells Roll Call that he is ditching wind power to focus on natural gas, at least in the short term. What happened?
Pickens tells Roll Call: “You have no way to force wind in unless it makes economic sense…You’re sitting here on an abundance of the cleanest of all
hydrocarbons. You’re a fool if you don’t use it. If you turn it down, it
means you’re for foreign oil.” According to Pickens, wind power won’t be profitable until natural gas costs rise from $4 to $6 per million BTUs. He speculates that this will happen by 2016.
Should wind developers be panicking? Not necessarily. Climate Progress speculates that part of the problem is Pickens’ fixation on Texas, where utilities have already bought enough wind power to meet their renewable energy targets, and farms that sell wind power on the “spot market” (40% of
the total Texas wind market) can’t beat out prices for natural gas at the moment. Utilities in the Northwest and California, however, are more open to
wind power because they’re still trying to hit their renewable energy
Pickens’ new plan seems shortsighted–if wind power will be profitable by 2016, surely it makes sense to start building out wind farms now, and construction takes time. And according to a recent report from the Post-Carbon Institute, there is just a 12-year supply of easily accessible natural gas available in the U.S. Just because a cheap energy solution exists, that doesn’t mean we should use it instead of a clean alternative. Didn’t we learn that with coal?
Update: Pickens camp wants it to be clear they are not, in fact, ditching wind power. They’re simply not building the giant wind farm in Texas for the time being. They still have, they insist, a lot of wind turbines. They’re in the wind business.