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After the difficult debt markets put a cramp in hedge fund manager T. Boone Pickens’ plans to build the world’s largest wind farm, he spent a good six months insisting the effort would still move forward, albeit with significant delays. Well, it looks like there’s a new plan now: Ditch any attempt to build the “world’s largest” wind farm and instead build a handful of smaller wind farms throughout the Midwest, according to the Dallas Morning News and confirmed by other media outlets.
The move might sound like a minor hiccup for the former oil baron, but if you’ve been following Pickens’ unveiling of the the Pickens Plan and his subsequent $58 million marketing campaign to make his effort a topic of household discussion, this setback is the latest example of the investor falling seriously short of his original claims and goals. As I said in this post last month, Pickens has over the year been really successful at basically one thing: getting a lot of attention and educating people about clean energy — a laudable notion on its own.
But when it comes to the Pickens Plan itself, which proposes using natural gas vehicles and wind to replace a dependence on foreign oil, and Pickens’ own investments, the investor has not had equal success. Natural gas vehicles have gotten little attention from the federal government (very little mention in the stimulus bill), and entrepreneurs and investors have largely ignored this technology to work on electric vehicles and biofuels. Pickens hasn’t given up yet, however. This week he will join Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) to introduce the “NAT GAS Act” to support vehicles that run on natural gas.
For Pickens’ wind farm ambitions, the poor economy — which has contributed to a drop in natural gas prices and difficult debt markets that kept him from raising funds for the farm — just came at the wrong time. Though, the ultimate reason he cites for changing courses this time around is constraints on transmission lines. Pickens tells the Dallas Morning News that he is now considering building three or four smaller wind farms possibly in Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Kansas or Texas. That’s a far cry from the 4 GW of wind power that was supposed to dominate the Texas corridor.
Pickens’ own investments with BP Capital have slumped, too. Late last year his fund was down a staggering $2 billion due to the drop in oil and natural gas prices, and he permitted investors to withdraw their funds early due to the 60 percent losses. Now he tells the Dallas Morning News that his funds, which originally totaled $4 billion, now hold about $1.5 billion, but that he will be reinvesting those this year. “We got a good year going,” he tells the paper. For his sake, I hope so.
Image courtesy of the Center for American Progress and creative commons.