American oil pioneer turns to wind power

Washington, July 24:

T Boone Pickens, 80-year-old founder of one of the largest US oil exploration and production companies, is not your typical proponent of alternative energy solutions.

But with surging global demand pushing crude prices to record highs and US presidential candidates from left and right slamming the country’s reliance on foreign energy sources, Pickens has changed his tune.

“The simple truth is that cheap and easy oil is gone,” reads a line from his new Pickens Plan. In the place of oil, Pickens is now pushing a homegrown alternative that he says would help solve the US energy crisis and create thousands of jobs across the country.

Pickens plans to promote his manifesto over the course of the 2008 presidential campaign, using $58 million of his own money.

The Pickens Plan calls for wind turbines to be built across the Midwest, from North Dakota to Texas. He suggests the electricity generated from wind would free up homegrown natural gas to be used as a clean and cost-effective fuel for vehicles.

Pickens has already begun work on converting wind into a viable alternative, which the US Department of Energy in May said could provide about 20 percent of the country’s electricity needs in the future.

That same month, Pickens’ firm Mesa Power announced a deal with General Electric to build

the world’s largest wind farm in Texas.

About three per cent of the state’s power is generated through wind, compared to one per cent for the whole of the country. Sceptics suggest Pickens, a conservative and ally of President Bush, sees an opportunity to add to his own fortune, which is already estimated at up to $4 billion.

Aside from any narrow interests, Pickens’ motivations for pushing wind power are related more to the security and economic implications of importing foreign oil than about reducing causes of global warming.

The US imports about 70 per cent of its oil at a cost of $700 billion annually. That makes the $1.2-trillion cost of building a viable nationwide wind power system worth it, Pickens argues.

Speaking before a Senate committee, Pickens warned oil could reach $300 per barrel in a decade if the US did not curb its “addiction”. Crude oil has topped $140 per barrel in recent weeks.

Pickens said he would push for energy independence to become the top 2008-election issue.

Republican nominee John McCain and his Democratic rival Barack Obama have sparred numerous times over how to lower record petrol prices and provide relief to consumers in a stalling US economy.

Pickens has said he remains neutral so far — he’ll pick the presidential candidate with the best energy plan.