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

Mon, 2010-12-20 13:37Mike Casey
Mike Casey's picture

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

Cross posted from Scaling Green

This past 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 stillrequire 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.

Cross posted from Scaling GreenFollow Scaling Green on Twitter.

Previous Comments

Just for a little perspective, each and every windmill needs roughly 280 tonnes of steel, 180 tonnes of coking coal and 300 tonnes of iron ore; all of which need to be mined and transported with hydrocarbons. Unfortunately, we can’t make windmills from solar panels or vice versa.

As for China, environmentally they’re on a “treadmill to hell”; at this point the politburo’s impulse to expand national fossil fuel based energy supplies FAR outweighs any newfound concern for the environment. This is a simple and undeniable fact, especially in light of Chinese neo-mercantilism..

BioDevastation, your numbers are hard to believe. What is your source for them? And what is all that coking coal used for? And how much steel, iron, etc., and carbon emissions for transport goes into building a nuclear plant, or an oil pipeline, or a coal-burning electrical plant?

The Pickens (and employees) company, Mesa Water, has been buying water rights over the Ogallala aquifer, in the Panhandle. The plan was to sell the water to Texas cities, such as Dallas.

The wind-power powerline could choose its own route, since it would have the right of eminent domain, in Texas. The plan was to locate the water pipeline alongside it.

Could his change of mind over wind power be somehow water related?

All life cycle assessments for wind energy that I have seen produce an emissions pay-back time of a few years at most. E.g.:

http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0960148199001238

Quote:

The primary energy used in the production and disposal of materials comprising the offshore wind farm is 43,873 GJ. The yearly electricity production of 12,500 MWh of the wind farm is converted to primary energy that would be consumed at a conventional power plant in order to estimate the energy payback time. Based on an estimated efficiency of 40%, the energy use is paid back in 0.39 year, or less than 2% of a 20-year lifetime. The efficiency used is rather low, but it is the same as used in the LCA model for material production. The land-based wind farm, with a yearly production of 19,800 MWh, is paid back in 0.26 years. These figures correspond to those for a wind turbine in roughness class 1 calculated by the Wind Power Industry [4], although they estimate the figures in another way using input–output tables and an efficiency of 43.5 %.

Another:

http://www.bwea.com/ref/faq.html#payback

The comparison of energy used in manufacture with the energy produced by a power station is known as the ‘energy balance’. It can be expressed in terms of energy ‘pay back’ time, i.e. as the time needed to generate the equivalent amount of energy used in manufacturing the wind turbine or power station.

The average wind farm in the UK will pay back the energy used in its manufacture within six to eight months, this compares favourably with coal or nuclear power stations, which take about six months.

Still more:

http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_the_energy_payback_time_for_a_wind_turbine

A master’s thesis from Sweden:

http://cvi.se/uploads/pdf/Kunskapsdatabas%20ekonomi%20och%20avtal/ekonomi/ovriga%20publikationer/Wind_Power_Payback_Assessment_Scenarios.pdf

So, after the first year (or less), we’re in the black!

What we need to do is use all or any engery source more wiselly. We use more energy then any other country. We need more mass tranportation. I live in a small town and am 50-60 miles any larger city. WE have no buse or cab. to take you to the larger cities without coasting a lot of money. It is to far to ride a bick. WE should uses wind where and when it is coastely to do so. We can use water where there is enought curents to do so. We can use solar power where there is enought sun to do so. We can make and use smaller cars.There are a lot of ways to cut down on engery usage. We waist more energy of all types then any other country. We stick our nose in a lot of place where it dose not belong. By getting into allthes wars who are we really protecting the averge American or Big golbal comporations. Large corpation care only about thier wants and needs. The Koch Brother only care about making more money for themselfs

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