T Nation

The Pickens Plan


I have an opportunity to meet with T. Boone Pickens soon to discuss his plan for securing America's energy future.

To anyone that isn't familiar with his plan, here is an overview:

  • Create millions of new jobs by building out the capacity to generate up to 22 percent of our electricity from wind. And adding to that with additional solar generation capacity;

  • Building a 21st century backbone electrical transmission grid;

  • Providing incentives for homeowners and the owners of commercial buildings to upgrade their insulation and other energy saving options; and

  • Using America's natural gas to replace imported oil as a transportation fuel in addition to its other uses in power generation, chemicals, etc.

I need to be prepared to discuss his plan, and I'm posting to see what T-members' thoughts on it are.


I agree with points 2,3 and 4 that you list.

I disagree that wind/solar can generate 22% of US demand. Where did he get that number and is it realistic. I'm sure he based it on some sort of analysis but I find it hard to believe the number can be that high.

Nuclear energy is really the only true alternative we have right now. Letting our own oil sit offshore and underground in Alaska is also foolish since we are paying other nations for their resources.


I'd agree with #'s 2 & 3.

Wind/Solar on a large scale still seem to be a technological breakthrough shy of being worthwhile right now.

Natural gas could be used for transportation, but would it really be worthwhile to change over? It's just switching from one non-renewable to another.

Also, wouldn't that give Russia a huge advantage politically due to their reserves and geographical location? Most of Europe crapped their pants when supplies were interrupted during a cold snap. What would happen if it wasn't just for heating?

I like the idea of improving electrical grids, as they haven't been upgraded at the same pace as technology. This could result in some really underestimated gains when all is said and done.

I also like the idea of improving efficiency in our buildings, simply for the reason that is pointless waste, and that the improvements can be reliably measured.

As an addition, I wouldn't mind seeing incentives for people/businesses to cogenerate their own electricity. I know theres' a couple of farms in my area that are generating power by burning straw or spoiled grain.


Wind blows where people don't live--Pickens' map from Dakota to Texas.

Ask him how much it will cost to build the infrastructure to transport power from there to anywhere.


No shit? It might occur to you that 'nucular' power plants, if they're built, will be located where people don't live as well. Too bad Pickins' plan didn't make any mention of "* Building a 21st century backbone electrical transmission grid" to replace the horribly outdated, unreliable and vulnerable grid we have now. It's something that will be done sooner -- as in before a catastrophic failure, or later, as in while half the country is dark. Any wild ass guess as to which option will cost more?


This is untrue about nuclear power plants. My power comes from a nuclear plant about 8 miles from me, and that plant is right in the middle of the Philadelphia suburbs. It's certainly not located "where people don't live".

I don't know where other nuclear plants are, but, I venture to guess Limerick isn't the only one sitting in the middle of a major metropolitan area.


Precisely. Nuclear plants have been built close to existing power grids, cheaper to build and maintain than the "21st Century" grid built for a single source of energy. You cannot choose the point where the wind blows, unless you are tme.


Yeah, that's why we've been building so many new nuke plants over the last 20-30 years. Cause everyone wants one in their back yard.

And the wind blows everyfuckingwhere, but try to put up wind turbines where wealthy people can see them. They're almost as popular as a nuke plant, and the closer they get to where people live the less popular they become.


Well, while most nuclear plants in the US seem to have been built in between 1950 and 1980, there are more then a few (like the one 8 miles from me) that were built after 1980. If you look at the international scene though (mainly France and Japan), there have been many new plants in the last 20-30 years.

"According to the World Nuclear Association, globally during the 1980s one new nuclear reactor started up every 17 days on average, and by the year 2015 this rate could increase to one every 5 days.[32]"

Now, I'm not expert one nuclear power, but I'm going to use some common sense and venture to guess that the real reason few nuclear plants have gone up in the last 30 years has little to do with public outcry. I'd guess that it has a lot more to do with things like the cheap cost of coal and the government not handing out permits.

That's another good point... not just anyone can go and built a nuclear plant. It requires all sorts of permits from the government. Besides, the last I knew the government had approved a large number of new nuclear plants and had handed out new permits. I've been told it's a good time to get into nuclear physics.

So, finally, I'm not going to argue that there arn't some people out there who irrationally fear nuclear power. But just because there is a small number of people who out of ignorance think nuclear plants can go up in mushroom clouds doesn't mean that, as you characterize, there are only a few nuclear plants and those have been sneaked in in the middle of no where. Nuclear power not only is our best bet for clean/safe/endless energy, it's also already in widespread use in the US (about 20%).

I'm not sure what your point is though...


Just to keep things on topic, although I don't know enough about Pickens or his plan my general thoughts are:

  1. At the current level of technology neither wind nor solar seem like viable alternatives to coal for large scale power production. From the little I know it doesn't seem like there even close either.

  2. Sure, if the electric grid is aging and unsuitable, it should be replaced.

  3. Of course money should be spent making homes and commercial buildings more energy efficient. Along with (1), there does seem to be a place for wind and solar on a small scale. It seems like the widespread use of small solar and wind power generators in homes would have a big impact. IE, although it is not viable to see a large percentage of our power come from large solar/wind plants, perhaps it's possible to see at least a notable percentage come from small home generators. There are of course other alternative energy sources for homes. Geothermal heating is on the rise in some areas. Of course all of these things are expensive if they are added on to an existing home, but they arn't that bad on new homes. For example, if you're going to pay 10k on a new oil burner when you build your new house and pay 5k for someone to dig your well, why not just pay the 20k for someone to dig your well AND put in a geothermal system? So the 20-30k price tag that comes with solar/geothermal isn't so bad when you realize you can then forgo paying the initial cost of oil/gas heating and then the continual cost of the oil/gas itself.

  4. Of course, I don't think Mr. Pickens would like seeing (3), unless he himself was in the business of making and installing home solar, wind, and geothermal units. This brings me to my real point--I'm very dubious about a former oil man and his altruistic claims about alternative energy. From his commercial his message seems to be "America has a real energy problem and I'm going to do what's best to help us fix it". I fear though that what he's really saying is "I don't see a future for myself in the oil business, so I'm going to gamble and latch onto the alternative energy market in the most expedient way possible to make money". Ie, I fear that those like Pickens will go for the easiest or most commercially viable ideas instead of the most realistic ones for true energy independence.

  5. Finally, as I've hinted at above, I ultimately think our best short term solutions lie in personal responsibility (ie, more sensible driving and home heating/cooling habits, improving home energy efficiency), our best mid term solutions lie in nuclear power and possibly electric cars, and our best long term solutions lie in improved solar technology (short term being 5-30 years, mid term being 30-100 years, long term being 100+ years out, when the next generation of nuclear plants goes down).


Though I'm not saying wind power can generate enough power, I wonder how many people who say it can not have actually done any research into the area. Or do they just remember being told something about it from someone on television.


I think I heard Mr Pickens comment that natural gas is a tranisitonal transportation fuel until electric vehicles come online. It alway seems to me that the added preassure of adding the energy requirments of transportation to the electrical grid would more than wipe-out any gains made by the inclusion of 22% of wind and solar. It seems to me that we would require a more robust clean domestic enery source to really support this in the future. Nuclear?

I would be asking a handful of questions along the lines of:

-Would you consider this plan more of a final solution or more of a transition to other technologies? The plan obviously addresses some permanent issues like transmission infrastructure?

-Do you think americans have painted themselves into a corner by becoming too reliant on one energy source--oil? Wouldn't it be to the US's advantage to have multiple energy sources to choose from and would an electric vehicle which can run on electricity produced from varying sources be a final solution in that the US could be more nimble in choosing it electricity source?

-Your plan doesn't address battery and capacitor technology? Do you see these as becoming a major industry in a shifted economic landscape that rewards power generated then stored, rather than stored in a hydrocarbon then used at the moment of power generation?

I am sorry I am not a interviewer. My questions never come out right, but there is a train of thought here.


I have looked into solar and wind for my house. We don't have enough sun or wind to justify the cost. Basically a 30-40 year payback, which is close to the useful life of the systems themselves.

While the wind blows everywhere and the sun shines everywhere, it is not always enough to generate efficient power. You are talking about massive transport and storage issues. This is painfully clear to anyone with even a basic understanding of electricity. But then again, politics will often trump technology and common sense.


I did expect some people would have looked. Unfortunately most won't.


No one is saying that wind CANNOT generate enough power. In principle, a (very) large number of people peddling bicycles hooked up to generators could generate enough power. The question is over the cost/efficiency of wind power. A big concern is space as well.

Now, as you point out though is whether wind is REALLY that inefficient, as I've said. To be honest I am only repeating what I've heard from the "experts". This is about all anyone can do though, unless you yourself plan on changing careers. I don't know what the average wind farm produces (or could produce), and even trying to research that question would require me to know quite a bit about wind farms (for example, how would i know whether facts I've found about particular wind farms are representative of current technology?). Hence I defer to the expects and other anecdotal evidence.

Besides, no one is saying wind should be ignored, just that it doesn't seem to be the solution. Clearly, if because of certain geographical and economic facts about a region wind power is a good choice, then it should be used.

EDIT: I am talking about the large scale use of wind as a major source of power. Not home use of wind. Checking whether wind/solar is a viable option for an individual home seems simple enough, given that you have limited commercial choices for generators, know your demand, costs, etc. The question of whether in the end, given foreseeable advances in technology etc, wind is a viable large scale alternative energy supply is another issue entirely.


This is where I would be putting my money. Political pressure is going drive huge amounts of money into storage technology. I personally beleive storage is going to be at the home. As the cost of home generation comes down, demand for storage will rise. As energy companies are continually pressured to use non-real time energy sourse, their should be a shift in cost. Why wouldn't they encourage customers to use and store more power when they are actually producing it.

If a home owner had a smart storage system it could store when politically favorable generations is occuring and use the stored politically favorable power when generation switches back to real-time non-politically favorable generation. The effect of this would be a greater % of power coming from non-real time but politically favorable generation.

The solution would not be that terribly complicated. I am sure you could build a crude prototype with off-the-shelf storage, a CPU of some sort, a network connection to a controlling device, and some code. I would be shocked if we didn't see this in the next 10 years. The political pressure to use inefficient sources of energy is just too high. Maybe it already exists?