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T. Boone’s energy gospel

In the $58 million worth of TV ads with which he’s been blanketing the airwaves in recent months, 80-year-old Texas oilman/entrepreneur T. Boone Pickens comes across as the folksy, worldly-wise, very rich guy that everyone would like to have as a grandfather.

Pickens, whose net worth is variously estimated from $2.5 billion to $4 billion, depending on the vagaries of the energy market in which he’s heavily invested, solemnly intones in his commercials, “I’ve never been as worried about our energy security as I am right now — (it’s) the most serious situation since World War II. Our growing dependence on foreign oil is extreme, dangerous, and threatens the future of our nation.”

Unless the U.S. takes positive steps to stanch the tsunami of imported oil (something it hasn’t managed in the 35 years since the Arab oil embargo), he says, it stands to spend $10 trillion on foreign oil in the next 10 years.

“That’s $10 trillion leaving the U.S. and going to foreign nations, making … what I believe will be the single largest transfer of wealth in human history.”

While he made a large chunk of his vast fortune in oil, Pickens now wants the U.S. to commit to large scale alternate energy programs that center on wind-generated electricity, which would replace a lot of the natural gas now being used by generating plants, in turn freeing up that natural gas to be used to power vehicles.

Natural gas “is abundant, cheap, and clean,” he says, and the technology already exists to rapidly build fleets of trucks and buses primarily, but cars and other vehicles, too, that would be powered by the fuel.

It would, he says, be “a perfect bridge to the future, affording us time to develop new technologies and a new perspective on our energy use.”

The Pickens plan has been widely embraced and also widely criticized. He has a vested interest, the critics contend, because he’s a major player in the natural gas business and owns thousands of acres of land where he wants to erect wind turbines. Thus, a major beneficiary of the T. Boone Pickens U.S. Energy Salvation Plan would be T. Boone Pickens. Further, the naysayers say, he wants the government, i.e., taxpayers, to help pay for transmission lines to get the electricity from those remote area turbines to the national power grid.

To which one can only wonder: Who cares?

If the Pickens plan has merit in substantially reducing our purchases of foreign oil, wouldn’t we a helluva lot rather have a large chunk of that $10 trillion going to a U.S. company than to Mideast oil sheiks?

It’s a lot easier to construct electric transmission lines and to build on a widespread natural gas infrastructure already in place than to drill for ever more elusive new oil supplies or to try and create a new, tremendously expensive infrastructure for ethanol.

Pickens isn’t claiming that his plan for wind power/solar power/natural gas-powered vehicles will be the solution to this nation’s long-ignored need for alternate energy sources.

But it could be a significant part of the solution until something better comes along.


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