T. Boone Pickens Taps Water & Wind For Land Grab

T. Boone Pickens is set to spend $12 billion on the world’s largest wind farm in the Texas panhandle, but his water investment in the area — around a $100 million so far — could make an equally big splash for the ex-oilman. According to Business Week, Pickens owns more water than any other individual in the country through water rights in the Ogallala aquifer under the same land he is putting turbines up on. And now Pickens is working to get a deal to transport both his wind and water over to Dallas. “The wind is meant to sweeten the deal,” Texas State Rep Warren Chisum tells BW. “The big money for Pickens is in the water.”

His wind and water have the same problem: no nearby buyers. Building both electrical transmission lines and a water pipeline to Dallas would require negotiations with hundreds of inconveniently situated landowners. If only he could somehow force them all to sell to him . . . like through state-mandated eminent domain! That’s where Pickens’s political savvy dovetails with his inscrutable business interests. Clean energy developers can learn a thing or two from one of America’s most infamous corporate raiders.

Not just anyone can exercise the right of eminent domain. According to BW, Pickens had his lobbyists exert pressure on the Texas legislature to give joint energy and water transmission lines right-of-way. To get the power of eminent domain Pickens formed his own eight-acre water district on his property and now has the power to annex land “for the common good.”

In April Pickens sent 1,100 letters out to landowners along the 250-mile corridor he wants to build on. Pickens is confident he’ll be able to get all the land he needs for about $30 million and plans to start building a $1.5 billion water pipeline with a $2 billion electrical transmission line above.

But Pickens’s lobbying powers aren’t limited to the Lone Star state. Pickens testified yesterday in front of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Pickens told Congress to expand the scope of eminent domain and right-of-way, which are currently controlled at the state level, so companies like his Mesa Wind and Water can operate across state lines.

“All I’m doing is selling surplus water,” Pickens tells Business Week. The very idea of “surplus water” exemplifies how Pickens can make anything into a commodity, from water to political will. Perhaps thinking this way is the best way to get clean energy to compete with commodities like oil, coal and gas — with force.