Don’t Trust T. Boone Pickens

You will be seeing and hearing a lot from T. Boone Pickens over the next few months. His publicity blitz have been very impressive as Nancy Pelosi even invited him to talk to the Democrat Caucus even though he financed the Swift Boat group in 2004.

As beguiling as Pickens energy plan is, it is disingenuous. His energy plan will not get us off of foreign oil. If you read the plan, it is obivous that Pickens is not serious. He is obviously not serious because his answer for getting of foreign oil is–wait for it–to use wind power. This non-sequitur is the cornerstone of Pickens’ plan. Just read this page from his website.

If you don’t want to read Pickens’ plan, here’s a condensed version. Foreign oil is bad. The wind blows a lot in America. We can produce electricity from wind. Cars can run on natural gas. Wind power can displace natural gas used for electrical generation. That’s his argument, but just doesn’t work.

Oil and electricity have very little to do with each other

Pickens states that we use a lot of foreign oil and then notes that “The United States is the Saudi Arabia of wind power.” That’s fine and good, but oil and electricity have very little to do with each other. In 2006, only 2% of the electricity in America was generated using oil. Two percent. Eliminating that 2% isn’t going to “get us off foreign oil.”

Wind does not produce electricity in the way we use electricity

We want on-demand electricity. We don’t just want electricity when the wind is blowing the right speed (wind turbines only produce electricity when the wind is blowing hard enough, but not too hard). We want some electricity all the time–to run our computers, refrigerators, etc. We also want to have more electricity at times of high energy use–such as the afternoon when we want to run our conditioners more.

But even in the best locations, wind only produces electricity 35% of the time. People don’t want electricity just 35% of the time.

Wind power can only displace a very small amount of natural gas

When new wind farms are built, we have to have natural gas-powered electricial generation for when the wind doesn’t blow. Natural gas turbines can quickly spin up, making them ideal to use when the wind quickly changes. But as a result, wind can only displace a very small amount of natural gas. In fact, as there is more wind production, we need more and more natural gas-fired turbines to make up for the slack when there isn’t more wind. This does not free up natural gas to power our cars.

Pickens has large investments in natural gas

Unsurprisingly, Pickens has large investments in natural gas. By increasing the amount of wind generation only makes natural gas more valuable, increasing the value of his holdings. Becuase the subsidies are so lucrative for wind prouction, Pickens will also make money from his wind turbines (even though he thinks they are ugly and so he doesn’t have any on his ranch).

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