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Whoa!: T. Boone Ditches World's Largest Wind Farm Plan

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TBoonegenericAfter 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.

8 Responses to “Whoa!: T. Boone Ditches World's Largest Wind Farm Plan”

  1. A.M. Jacobs

    Shelly and Rob:
    Whether Pickens ever “cared” about wind energy or the environment matters nought. The key point here is that someone who is politically connected, who understands very large scale capital financiang, and who has operated successfully for years in energy markets couldn’t make wind work. If…
    (1) a hard-core schemer,
    (2) backed by billions of government dollars,
    (3) surrounded by savvy tax attorneys,
    (4) blessed with a sweetheart equipment deal from a huge, politically-connected corporate multinational (GE) and
    (5) embeddeed deeply with a strong utility (FP&L)
    can’t make this work, doesn’t that tell you how weak the economic case for wind power really is? Do you really think someone who “cares” more and “loves the land” but doesn’t have capital, business sense, political leverage and scale on his side will make it work?

    Learn from this terrible waste of investor money (and, Rob, I have to agree, sacrifice of Texas countryside). Wind “farms” with capacity factors under 40% take 50,000 acres and hundreds of miles of lines to do what a single 1000MW nuclear plant can do in 500 acres with a 90%+ capacity factor.

  2. Rob B.

    Pickens could give a big rat’s behind about green energy. Remember where he made his billions? He wanted to corner the market on wind energy, and he didn’t care a tinker’s damn about the environment. Let me share the central Texas experience with Mr. Pickens.

    Once he announced his plan to build the huge wind farms in west Texas, he began plotting a route that would take energy produced by those farms to San Antonio and Austin. The route he selected happened to dissect the Hill Country, a historic region of Texas known for its natural beauty. Contracting with Flroida Power and Light, Pickens sent his minions to scout out possible land deals for the massive power lines. Unfortunately, said minions found ranchers eager to make quick money from the sale of easement land, even though the land would still be tied up in perpetuity if Pickens decided not to go forward. Well, of course he didn’t go foward, and thousands of acres in the Hill Country now look like the surface of the moon. Three-hundred-year-old oaks have been destroyed to make way for those hideous power lines that will now sit there doing nothing, like Alaska’s bridge to nowhere. Unless, of course, Pickens can fob the whole project off on the Texas Public Utility Commission – which may have been his plan all along.

  3. Pickens is a fraud. He wanted to advance natural gas from the start, and he has no interest in renewables except as a source of income for himself. I can’t believe the people who were taken in by his “plan”. He announced earlier this year he had given up on his plan to use natural gas in cars and would only focus on trucks. That got him the support of members of Congress. Now he renegs on that and goes back to the idea of using yet another fossil fuel in our cars. What a stupid idea. When are people going to get wise to what this fraud is doing??? Natural gas is finite, it’s a fossil fuel, it pollutes when it burns. Stop looking to T. Boone Pickens for ideas about anything having to do with climate change, — he doesn’t CARE! He never did.