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The Good, The Bad, The Ugly: T. Boone Pickens

August 26th, 2008 · 19 Comments

A cowboy has ridden out, gathering a posse, to slay the demon of imported oil.  Texas Oilman T Boone Pickens is investing over $50 million in promoting The Pickens’ Plan with advertising, a tremendous website, public affairs, and public presentation after presentation. This includes speaking tomorrow at The Big Tent.  There are serious issues surrounding Pickens’ politics that foster questioning not just of T Boone’s designs but also the sensibility of inviting T Boone into a new media space and whether Pickens will face serious questioning when there

On The Big Tent stage, Pickens will share the podium with John Podesta from America Progress and Carl Pope of the Sierra Club.  It is unlikely that they will ask T Boone the hard questions.  Podesta’s words on The Pickens’ Plan:

with the release of the Pickens Plan, we can start having the right debate.

The plan that T. Boone Pickens has put forward today is a major step in the right direction.

Pope is even more laudatory

To put it plainly, T. Boone Pickens is out to save America.

Does The Pickens Plan merit such praise?

In fact, The Pickens’ Plan and the hoopla surrounding it are best described with that classic western:  The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

The Good:  

The plan has a heavy emphasis on renewable energy, with a clear vision of how to have wind providing 20 percent of more of America’s electricity in the near term.  

The plan emphasizes the need to get off (at least foreign) oil, with an evident recognition that oil is a depleting resource and that the United States does not have enough oil to run our economy on our own oil.

Pickens’ Plan is interesting due to the intersection of different needs of energy, suggesting an interesting item of wind displacing natural gas which then can displace gasoline use.

The plan highlights the need for better transmission lines to move wind/renewable energy around the nation.

And, there is a value of Pickens’ making such a clear association of the energy situation with the massive economic implications of sending dollars overseas to buy oil to move our SUVs.


There is real value that Pickens is making news about need to do something re energy and that Pickens is at least making an effort at an appearance of bipartisanship


The Bad:  

The Plan is very stove-piped, focusing solely on energy production rather than the full system-of-systems issues of energy usage. There is absolutely no discussion of energy efficiency, for example, which could provide tremendous benefits in reducing oil dependency.

There is an emphasis on massive infrastructure investment to be able to make more automobile transport dependent on natural gas (roughly $3k per vehicle plus cost of new pumping system ($150k per pump at gas station, $4-10k for home system).  This investment, if applied to efficiency for example, would reduce oil dependency far more effectively per invested dollar.

The plan has a huge emphasis on a move to natural gas for transportation, which is a poor use of this valuable resource and which is only 30% better than fossil fuel in global warming terms. As an example of lack of energy efficiency in the discussion, there is no discussion of things like hybrids and plug-in-hybrid electric vehicless (PHEVs) which could work with natural gas systems.

There is no discussion of the power of electrification of transportation, such as the electrification of rail, which offers tremendous opportunities for carving into our fossil fuel dependencies.


The Ugly

There are many hidden or obscure elements of the plan, certainly not central to The Pickens’ Plan discussions with the nation.

For example, the wind transmission corridors provide a path for government taking care of all the right of way issues to move water from Pickens’ holdings in the Ogawalla corridor to the market. Pickens’ plan for the acquifer could greatly accelerate depreciation of this near-unrenewable and critical resource.  (Pickens’ concept is, basically, a classic law of the commons: a desire to use it/sell it before his neighbors have a chance to use it themselves.)

There is tremendous uncertainty about Pickens’ politics and the potential implications of those politics for the seriousness of Pickens’ commitment to changing America’s energy future for the better. In addition, there is Pickens’ business record which does not provide great confidence in the seriousness of tackling America’s energy challenges in a sustainable manner.

There is a general dismissal of of Global Warming as a serious issue of concern, flippantly suggesting that The Plan will reduce GHGs and thus is good, even though those reductions could be done far more cost effectively in other ways … while reducing oil dependency even more than Pickens proposes to accomplish.

There has been a general dismissal of others’ plans and rhetoric as if noone had anything meaningful on the table before Pickens’ invested his $50+ million in promoting The Pickens’ Plan (which is “investment”, he will make $billions if this is adopted … not against people making a profit, but one should recognize this).

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

The Pickens’ Plan is not good, it is not solely bad, and it is not just ugly (and even has its elements of beauty). But, engagement with T Boone Pickens and The Pickens Plan should remain clearly within an understanding of the complexity as to The Good, The Bad, The Ugly. In light of that, any and all should engage with T Boone Pickens with the greatest of caution.

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Tags: Energy · energy efficiency · t boone pickens · the pickens plan · wind power

19 responses so far ↓

  • 1 agonzales // Aug 26, 2008 at 3:30 pm

    Is T. Boone selling you shinola, or something else?…

    I grew up in Houston, Texas. Maybe that made me more susceptible than most to the romanticized idea of being a Texas oil man. At the age of 18, the same summer I graduated high school, I went to work……

  • 2 Andrew // Aug 28, 2008 at 11:21 am

    “There is a general dismissal of of Global Warming as a serious issue of concern” I read through T. Boone Pickens Plan and didn’t see a single statement calling global warming a hoax. I don’t think T. Boone is being dismissive of global warming at all. His plan calls for 22% of our nations power grid to run off wind within the next 10 years. That doesn’t sound like something out of the board room at OPEC! That sounds like a legit green energy plan. Actions are thicker than rhetoric and, regardless of what Mr. Pickens is saying, his actions are clearly allied with the environment.

  • 3 Jack // Aug 28, 2008 at 11:34 am

    I don’t understand the cynicism and skepticism that some members of the media have greeted the Pickens Plan with. Large scale alternative energy revolutions don’t come around everyday! And especially not from former oil men. Our country faces a huge uphill battle in reforming our energy grid. Not only do we need more wind power; but transmission lines as well. T. Boone’s plan is the first in my memory that calls for the investment in complementary infrastructure to the overall wind generation plan. If we are to truly beat our addiction to foreign oil we are going to need to listen to T. Boone and others like him. It’s time we built a coalition that includes more than just one political ideology. So, it doesn’t matter if your allegiance is to T. Boone or Al Gore. We’re all marching in the same direction.

  • 4 A Siegel // Aug 28, 2008 at 10:02 pm

    Andrew. The plan calls for using that wind to displace natural gas electricity and using the natural gas for personal transport. That second will require $10s (if not $100s) of billions of investment for something only marginally (about 30%) less damaging in GHG terms than gasoline. The worst electricity re Global Warming is coal, by FAR, yet Pickens doesn’t say a word about getting off coal. The wind, combined with natural gas electricity, could go a long way to displacing serious amounts of coal.

    Jack. The Pickens’ Plan is not a serious plan, overall. It is not an ideological issue. The plan is not holistic (where is efficiency, for example). It does not speak to the most serious environmental risks (coal). It is not cost efficient.

    Read the post … there are good, bad, and ugly elements of the plan. You point to two elements that I call ‘good’. Evidently you didn’t bother to read and assimilate my comments about bad and ugly.

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  • 10 reality // Nov 10, 2008 at 12:01 am

    is it just me, or is the Ogala Aquifer not the only Achilles Heel of this plan?….one slight look at the bold definition of the “wind corridor” seems to be the same as “Tornado Alley”

    no engineering can or will resist that force of nature… we’ll be in the dark when an F3 or 4 or 5 happens to gobble all of those precarious looking windmills?

    trust me……T Boone is looking at his market share of fart gas.

  • 11 A Siegel // Nov 10, 2008 at 10:52 am

    RE questioning the ‘tornado alley’, take a look at the existing and projected wind production areas from Texas through Montana.

    How many towns are knocked out by tornados/year? It happens, but how many homes/year.

    This could be a “cost” of business, but I don’t think that this is a killer problem. I don’t know how many wind turbines have been lost to tornadoes.

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