Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 6, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

THE PICKENS PLAN....So T. Boone Pickens has an energy plan he wants to sell us. The basic idea is simple: Build a bunch of windmills in Texas to generate electricity, and then use the electricity to power electric cars. Voila! Energy independence!

No, wait. That's not it at all. What Pickens actually wants to do is use the windmills to replace the electricity from existing power plants that run on natural gas. Then we can use the natural gas to run our cars.

Hmmm. That's a bit of a kludge, isn't it? Why do it that way? Is it really easier to build a massive infrastructure for fueling NG cars than it is to build an infrastructure for electric cars? And who's going to force all those gas-fired power plants to shut down anyway?

Well, as near as I can tell, here's the story. Pickens wants to build his electricity transmission facilities on a strip of land 250 feet wide and 250 miles long that starts at his farm in Roberts County, Texas, and terminates in Dallas. Why that particular strip? Because Pickens has been buying up massive water rights from the Ogallala Aquifer and he wants to pipe that water to Dallas at huge profit. Unfortunately, pipeline right-of-way is pretty hard to acquire, so Pickens figured out a way to get some help: he formed a little water district headed by his wife and a friend and then convinced the Texas legislature that water plus wind electricity was a good reason to use its power of eminent domain to hand over the land to him for a song. Wind power wasn't really the motivation for this land snatch, it was just a sweetener for a water deal.

Clever — and typically Texan, no? Still, why not just sell the electricity? Why the natural gas switcheroo? Turns out Pickens has a vested interest there too:

Along with being the country's biggest wind power developer, Pickens owns Clean Energy Fuels Corp., a natural gas fueling station company that is the sole backer of the stealthy Proposition 10 on California's November ballot.

....But a closer read finds a laundry list of cash grabs — from $200 million for a liquefied natural gas terminal to $2.5 billion for rebates of up to $50,000 for each natural gas vehicle. Much of the measure's billions could benefit Pickens' company to the exclusion of almost all other clean-vehicle fuels and technology.

So the windmills are an excuse to condemn land for a water pipeline, and the natural gas piece of the plan benefits Pickens' NG fueling station company. And while natural gas burns cleaner than oil, it's still a fossil fuel that's found mostly in Russia and the Middle East. Increasing our dependence on gas does little in the long term to promote energy independence.

Now, generally speaking, I don't have any problem with people making money from clean energy. That's how we're going to get more of it, after all. But between his water-fueled eminent domain land grab in Texas and his support for a $5 billion bond measure in California, Pickens sure is using a lot of government dough to benefit himself. Something tells me there must be a better way to promote wind power than this.

Kevin Drum 1:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (77)

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Not that Pickens doesn't have massive self-interest, but part of the story with natural gas is we already have a distribution infrastructure: just put a compressor in peoples' houses and you're done. Whereas hydrogen would need an entirely new infrastructure.

earl

Posted by: Earl Hathaway on August 6, 2008 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

Seconding Earl, a natural gas fueling infrastructure would be relatively easy to build.

The big advantage fo running cars on natural gas vs electricity is it's quite easy and cheap to retrofit most existing cars to run on natural gas; unlike electric cars, which require building a new car.

Posted by: SamChevre on August 6, 2008 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

Natural gas is another declining resource. Why not cut out the middleman and go straight to electricity?

Posted by: Ron Byers on August 6, 2008 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

Who really gives a shit what Pickens wants to do beyond the wind power? He's probably got his finger in the shale gas deposits in and around Ft. Worth and looking for another quick hundred million or so. Once a shit always a shit.

Natural gas supply is (unless you can in some way "plumb" barnyard animals) finite and too valuable as a heating and cooking resource to piss away on personal transportation. Electric everything is still the best way to go.

Texas isn't much good for anything else, so it might as well redeem itself by becoming one big wind farm.

Posted by: Jeff II on August 6, 2008 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

In addition to the distribution infrastructure, it's pretty obvious how to compress natural gas and transport it around in the vehicle it's powering, and a "natural gas tank" can be filled quickly.

The problem with electricity is that batteries have to be large and heavy to have even near the range of a tank of gas (gasoline or compressed natural), and batteries cannot be recharged that quickly.

A motor vehicle has to carry its power source with it. Electricity has many advantages, but it is very difficult to make portable in amounts sufficient for driving.

Posted by: Dirty Davey on August 6, 2008 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

Echoing Ron, the beauty of moving to electric cars is you obviate the need to change delivery mechanisms and vehicles on the customer end every time you switch fuel sources. So we go from oil to natural gas, delivered at your home, meaning all the cars get retrofitted and you have to put in fueling stations in every house.

Ten years later we switch from natural gas to whatever, and you have to do it all over again.

But all our houses ALREADY have electrical outlets, and we ALREADY have wires running across the country delivering said electricity.

If you change the source of energy at the power plant instead, you only have to replace the power plant, not everything down-line. So we change from coal to natural gas AT THE POWER PLANT, and the end user is still fine with their house outlet and electric car. Ten years later we change from natural gas at the plant to wind, again no problem for the end user, they keep their outlet and electric car. Ten years later we change from wind to I don't know, nuclear or whatever, again you're fine, the consumer keeps their outlet and electric car.

The value of electric as the fuel in the car is much more in the infrastructure and delivery end than in anything else. It gives us the flexibility to change our ultimate fuel source at the generating facilities without having to rejigger everything else downline.

Posted by: Jeff Hebert on August 6, 2008 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

Remember that old gag about "we're from the government and we're here to help?."

That should be updated to read, "we're from the free market and we're here to help." Hold on to your wallet when you hear that one. And the government's wallet, too, because they only hate socialism when they're giving money to the government Always happy to take it.

Posted by: thersites on August 6, 2008 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

"Natural gas supply is (unless you can in some way "plumb" barnyard animals) finite and too valuable as a heating and cooking resource to piss away on personal transportation. Electric everything is still the best way to go."

But we already use most of our gas to generate electricity, and if we switch to electric cars, our cars will be running on natural gas anyway, just indirectly.

And as a Texan, let me add that whereever you are from sucks, too.

Posted by: RWB on August 6, 2008 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

"Natural gas supply is [...] finite and too valuable as a heating and cooking resource to piss away on personal transportation."

Heating and cooking are done in fixed locations which can be wired for electricity. Yes, for the time being electricity is not as efficient as gas for heating... but you can plug a stove or heat pump into an outlet and use it without having to store electricity--you can't do that for a car unless you have a hell of an extension cord.

Posted by: Dirty Davey on August 6, 2008 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

T. Boone is the Ron Popiel of the energy sector and anytime he makes you an offer you should keep your hand on your wallet.

And a good rule of thumb is to never trust a guy with a leading initial or numbers at the end of his name.

Posted by: Jim 7 on August 6, 2008 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin asks:

Pickens sure is using a lot of government dough to benefit himself. Something tells me there must be a better way to promote wind power than this.

The likely answer is "using a lot of government dough to benefit" someone else.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on August 6, 2008 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

Except me.

Posted by: W on August 6, 2008 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

Electric cars -- both pure electric and pluggable hybrid-electric -- are the way to go. That's where the automobile industry is going, not natural gas fueled cars. General Motors plans to bring its pluggable-hybrid Chevy Volt to market in 2010, and is partnering with major electric utilities to develop the charging stations and smart-grid infrastructure necessary to support millions of electric vehicles. Nissan has announced that it will introduce pure electric battery-powered cars to the US market in 2010, scaling up to mass production in 2012, and that these cars will be available, affordable and profitable. Tesla Motors, which manufactures extremely expensive all-electric high-performance sports cars, plans to introduce affordable all-electric sedans for the mass market.

According to a December 2006 study by the US Department of Energy:

If all the cars and light trucks in the nation switched from oil to electrons, idle capacity in the existing electric power system could generate most of the electricity consumed by plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. A new study for the Department of Energy finds that “off-peak” electricity production and transmission capacity could fuel 70% percent of the U.S. light-duty vehicle (LDV) fleet, if they were plug-in hybrid electrics …

The study also looked at the impact on the environment of an all-out move to PHEVs. The added electricity would come from a combination of coal-fired and natural gas-fired plants. Even with today’s power plants emitting greenhouse gases, the overall levels would be reduced because the entire process of moving a car one mile is more efficient using electricity than producing gasoline and burning it in a car’s engine.

Better yet, the USA has vast commercially (ie. profitably) exploitable solar and wind energy resources sufficient to produce far more electricity than the entire country uses, more than enough for all current uses and to electrify our transportation systems.

Al Gore's proposal to get 100 percent of US electricity from clean renewable energy within 10 years is absolutely doable, and is actually not even that difficult to achieve technically or economically. The only real obstacle is the entrenched political power of the fossil fuel industries, who want to delay the inevitable phase-out of their products as long as possible, for obvious reasons.

As Ron Byers points out, natural gas is just another fossil fuel that is facing its own peak-and-decline situation. According to some energy industry analysts like Matt Simmons, natural gas supplies may crash in the relatively near future and this could be a more imminent and worse problem than peak oil. Recommended reading: High Noon For Natural Gas: The New Energy Crisis by Julian Darley.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on August 6, 2008 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

The problem with electricity is that batteries have to be large and heavy to have even near the range of a tank of gas (gasoline or compressed natural), and batteries cannot be recharged that quickly. Posted by: Dirty Davey

Currently that is true. But that's like complaining about the fact that you once had to hand crank an automobile engine to start it, and we really aren't all that far away from that in terms of electric car technology. Then again, Americans are so fucking hung up on private transport. That really is the crux of the problem.

Imagine the progress that could have been made if we'd spent the money pissed away for nothing but death and destruction in Iraq on research and investment in alternative and renewable energies? It's not pie in the sky. Even with the relatively primitive solar and wind technology we have now we could power the country on renewables. You don't like OPEC and brown people? Well there's your option for sticking it to them.

Posted by: Jeff II on August 6, 2008 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

Pickens is taking the Ogallala Aquifer? That's the aguifer that supplies the richest farmland in the U.S. He's going to take the plains states water and ship it to Dallas? Does Nebraska know anything about this?

Posted by: on August 6, 2008 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

It's hard to make money in the free market, so T. Boone Pickens is doing what any self-respecting crony capitalist does -- use the government to get a leg up. Bush did a similar thing, he didn't make his money by providing a competitive product or service in the free market.

Posted by: American Citizen on August 6, 2008 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know the long term resources we can get from natural gas- but I do know this. I own the mineral rights to several pieces of property in Oklahoma. They are floating on natural gas. In the 70's my family was raking in money from these mineral rights. Then the wells were capped, not empty, capped. We were told natural gas just wasn't profitable when pumped domestically. Because of well head taxes it was cheaper to just import it.
This week I received a check in the high four figures with an explanation that they will be uncapping one of the wells. A most interesting development.

Posted by: ohcomeon on August 6, 2008 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

Yancey Ward wrote: "The likely answer is 'using a lot of government dough to benefit someone else.'"

Do you consider tax cuts to be "using a lot of government dough to benefit someone else"?

Because what the wind and solar industries mainly and urgently need from government right now is renewal of the investment and production tax credits for wind and solar power.

The Republicans have been blocking the renewal of those tax credits, at the behest of their owners in the fossil fuel industries, who are doing everything they possibly can to delay as long as possible the transition from an energy economy based on mining limited supplies of expensive fuels to one based on harvesting free, endless wind and solar energy.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on August 6, 2008 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

*

Posted by: mhr on August 6, 2008 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

Pickens is taking the Ogallala Aquifer? That's the aguifer (sic) that supplies the richest farmland in the U.S. He's going to take the plains states water and ship it to Dallas? Does Nebraska know anything about this?

Texas is a plains state, and the "richest farmland in the U.S." is in the Midwest.

The Great Plains have water problems with or without the Ogallala Aquifer and, as it is depleted, it's a part of the country that will become more and more dependent on it's sparse rain and snow fall.

http://www.npwd.org/new_page_2.htm

Posted by: Jeff II on August 6, 2008 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

About electric cars and our auto mentality.

At MIT several months ago it was announced that electrical power could be induced to cars from wires embedded in roadways with little loss.

Imagine dedicated lanes with power, especially on freeways, removing another obstacle to hybrids, their lack of electrically powered range. Imagine hybrid lorries in the San Joaquin Valley, using their bi-source to access food at the farm level, then transporting the same using electrical pickups in the roadbed, reducing the smog in the valley.

Scientific American, Jan 2008, has a grand plan using solar and other sources (including nat. gas at night).

The US could have gone this way in 2001. Now they are seven years behind.

Posted by: Intelvet on August 6, 2008 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

This week I received a check in the high four figures with an explanation that they will be uncapping one of the wells. A most interesting development. Posted by: ohcomeon

Could be that the price has finally risen to where your wells are now competitive with Canadian sources.

NPR had an interesting bit about gas shale in Texas yesterday.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=93300400

Posted by: Jeff II on August 6, 2008 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

....But a closer read finds a laundry list of cash grabs — from $200 million for a liquefied natural gas terminal to $2.5 billion for rebates of up to $50,000 for each natural gas vehicle.

Grab your wallet indeed. A similar scheme here in Arizona almost bankrupted the state a few years ago. Check out:


When a friend phoned last year to say that the state of Arizona was about to buy him a brand new pickup truck loaded with all the luxury options, I took it with a grain of salt. I've known the government to do some stupid things, but buying new trucks for my successful banker friends just wasn't one of them.

Or so I thought.

But Arizona, in what may go down in stupid government lore as the Great Pickup Stick-Up, did in fact buy my friend a truck, or at least most of a truck, by offering rebates and tax breaks that slashed its $35,000 price tag by more than half. And it did the same for thousands of other Arizonans, turning what was supposed to be a modest $3 million initiative to encourage the use of alternative-fuel vehicles (AFVs) into a half-billion-dollar boondoggle that nearly bankrupted the state and earned it national belly laughs.

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1568/is_2_33/ai_75099630

The article says it was half a billion but I remember the total being more like $700 million. People were buying fully loaded, the program covered the total vehicle cost, including options, full-sized pickups and SUVs and putting the smallest CNG tank they could get away with, then running the vehicle on gas anyway. It turns out the State Senator that pushed it through, mine as it turned out, had previously been a lobbyist for, surprise, the natural gas industry.

And no, I didn't get a vehicle under these "incentives".

Posted by: gaarvark on August 6, 2008 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

Jeff II,

You better check your figures. Gas shale will be just a puff of natural gas compared to worldwide demand. The outputs sound huge when expressed in cubic feet but end up being a couple percent of what we use today.

Posted by: Tripp on August 6, 2008 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

"No, wait. That's not it at all. What Pickens actually wants to do is use the windmills to replace the electricity from existing power plants that run on natural gas. Then we can use the natural gas to run our cars.

Hmmm. That's a bit of a kludge, isn't it? Why do it that way?"

The reason to do it this way is that, it gives you a transitional solution to peak oil issues that works today.

The technology to feed wind energy into the grid already exists.
The technology to modify gasoline and diesel engines to operate on CNG already exists. In the poorer countries of the world (I know about India, Burma, Africa, Thailand) there is a thriving business in this. My understanding (but I could be wrong) is that the diesel mod is one way --- once you are set up for CNG that is it --- but the gasoline mod is dual, so you can use CNG when you have it, and switch to gasoline when the CNG runs out.

It's not ideal, of course (which is why it's being done in poor countries and no-one in the US has ever heard of it). You need to stick a hulking great CNG tank somewhere in the vehicle, which is going to remove cargo space or suchlike. I'm unaware of any stories of the tanks exploding, but I'm sure we'll hear plenty of them once this becomes mainstream. Refueling is obviously much more of a hassle --- not just the lack of a refueling station every block, but the fact that you can't just plunk a nozzle in a hole and feed a liquid through --- there's a much more complicated, much slower, probably requiring certified labor operation to mate together two high pressure tanks without bad things happening.

Nonetheless there are obviously certain low hanging fruit for which it makes sense. Buses are obvious, and every bus I see in LA is, in fact, CNG. After buses, 3rd world countries have moved on to taxi fleets and commercial vehicles, which like buses, tend to have something of a routine to their operation and so fit better with the facts of this refueling. The US could probably follow this lead.

So the point is that, even if there is a vague hope that one day in fifteen years everyone is driving electric vehicles, there is a way, right now, to, at the margins, reduce US oil.

Of course this doesn't change the fact that the political details of the plan make no sense. There is no reason whatsoever to subsidize CNG in this way --- it can be made to work cheaper than gasoline/diesel without govt help, as the 3rd world shows us.
Moreover one has to wonder, given the history of the US, if this is even such a good idea. Its hard to believe that the US would not simply use a temporary respite from rising gasoline prices as an excuse to do fsckall to confront the problem for another five years.

So, I guess, in summary
- what Pickens proposes makes sense in an ideal world
- the subsidies and goodies he proposes flow his way make no sense and
- given the non-ideal world we are in, it's not even clear if giving the US a 5 yr break from confronting the inevitable is a good idea.

Posted by: Maynard Handley on August 6, 2008 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

Natural gas is great fuel in the near term. It has more hydrogen and less carbon compared to gasoline (or coal, which is mostly carbon) so it's contribution to global warming is proportionately less.

It also works well in cars. Unlike hydrogen, it can be stored under pressure in liquid form at room temperature. It also has a very high equivalent octane, unlike the very low equivalent octane of hydrogen which presents issues with conventional internal combustion engines.

Posted by: fafner1 on August 6, 2008 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

Hmmmm...

"If God had intended Texans to ski, he`d have made bull sh*t white" - t-shirt slogan

Posted by: daCascadian on August 6, 2008 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

>"Imagine the progress that could have been made if we'd spent the money pissed away for nothing but death and destruction in Iraq on research and investment in alternative and renewable energies"

Imagine if Reagan hadn't torn out the Carter alternative energy programs.

Imagine if Reagan hadn't funded Osama bin Laden.

Imagine if Reagan hadn't dumped the mentally ill on the streets.

Imagine if Reagan hadn't gutted the american education system.

Imagine if Reagan hadn't deregulated the banking systems...

Imagine if Reagan hadn't destroyed... [well, fill in the blanks].

In the long view of history, that regime will be marked as a real turning poing for america... the point where it started really heading downhill.

Posted by: Buford. on August 6, 2008 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK
No, wait. That's not it at all. What Pickens actually wants to do is use the windmills to replace the electricity from existing power plants that run on natural gas. Then we can use the natural gas to run our cars.

Hmmm. That's a bit of a kludge, isn't it? Why do it that way? Is it really easier to build a massive infrastructure for fueling NG cars than it is to build an infrastructure for electric cars?


What infrastructure? Electricity and natural gas distribution to homes and businesses is a done deal in most of the country. The difference is that its easier to build natural gas powered cars with enough range to replace gasoline powered cars in a wide range of uses. Electric cars are, for now, more limited.

Anyhow, its not like the two approaches are exclusive.

Posted by: cmdicely on August 6, 2008 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

"Imagine dedicated lanes with power, especially on freeways, removing another obstacle to hybrids, their lack of electrically powered range. Imagine hybrid lorries in the San Joaquin Valley, using their bi-source to access food at the farm level, then transporting the same using electrical pickups in the roadbed, reducing the smog in the valley."

JFChrist. Why don't we imagine cars powered by fusion, or electrical power stations based on dark energy, or power beamed down from black holes we manufacture in satellites?

Computer people call this type of solution "boiling the ocean". Instead of trying to work to upgrade from where we are now to somewhere better, let's just completely turn the world upside down and refashion it.
In the US we can't get something like light rail in a city built for fifty miles without it taking 20 years of fighting. It takes two years to upgrade a twenty mile stretch of highway because the only time the work gets done is over three hours at midnight every day. In the realities of this political urban transport environment you honestly think LA can shut down say the 10 for a years to fit it with these cables --- all the while, no-one has the sort of vehicle that can utilize this ability?

Look dude, induction power lines embedded in roads ain't gonna happen in our lifetime. So spending time going on about how wonderful they would be is, like going on about the glories of hydrogen, a way to avoid actually confronting reality.

Posted by: Maynard Handley on August 6, 2008 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

But we already use most of our gas to generate electricity, and if we switch to electric cars, our cars will be running on natural gas anyway, just indirectly. Posted by: RWB

No, because natural gas is more expensive than wind, which is, last time I checked, free and historically quite plentiful throughout the world, especially in the great emptiness of the Plains States, the Great Basin, both coasts, Hawaii, etc., etc.

If the investment is made in wind and solar, gas fired power plants, like coal and oil, will no longer be necessary. Using fossil fuels to generate electricity is early 20th Century technology and the source of most of our current environmental woes.

Then again, I must defer to the wisdom of Texans, the people who elected Shrub governor twice and now just love his mini-me, Rock Perry, to death.

Posted by: Jeff II on August 6, 2008 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

I think it is a mistake to use Natural Gas as a transportation fuel. There are millions of homes that need cheap NG for heating, and industry that needs it to produce stuff. Encouraging it to be used as transportation fuel is going to drive the price up sky high and people throughout the midwest are going to be stuck with heating bills like the folks in the NE that use fuel oil. Build all the solar collectors and windmills that we can for electricity.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on August 6, 2008 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

Jeff II,

The big problem with electricity from wind is that there is no way to store it.

Wind is not reliable, and electrical power is not very mobile because there is no efficient way to store or transport it.

And if you tell me about the new battery tech I'll respond that it is a huge leap from a cell phone battery to a battery big enough to power New York City.

Posted by: Tripp on August 6, 2008 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

Jeff II wrote: "If the investment is made in wind and solar, gas fired power plants, like coal and oil, will no longer be necessary."

Which is, of course, exactly why the Minions Of The Fossil Fuel Industry, otherwise known as the Republicans in the Senate and House, have been blocking the renewal of the investment and production tax credits for solar and wind.

The business model of the fossil fuel industry is to profit from the extraction and sale of a limited supply of expensive fuel. Other related industries -- the automobile manufacturers, the builders of coal and gas fired electrical power plants -- profit from the manufacture and sale of devices which burn those fuels to convert their energy into a usable form.

The business model of the solar and wind energy industry is to profit from the manufacture and sale of devices that harvest free, endless solar and wind energy and convert it into a useful form. There is no "fuel" -- or looking at it another way, the "fuel" is free, abundant, ubiquitous and limitless.

When wind and solar take over, the business model of the fossil fuel industries will be obsolete and quickly become extinct.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on August 6, 2008 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

Doc,

Yup, plus natural gas is needed for fertilizer meaning food.

Sheesh, how many times do we have to go back over the same old topics?

NG - finite, needs a pipeline, used also for fertilizer, meaning food production.

Solar and Wind - plentiful, non-constant, not enough of it, not mobile.

Oil - peaked, declining.

Coal - dirty, the clean cheap easy stuff is peaking.

Bio - burn food?! Get real.

Nuclear - finite, or dirty (meaning provides bomb material for terrorists)

Everything else - great, on paper.

Posted by: Tripp on August 6, 2008 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

When wind and solar take over, the business model of the fossil fuel industries will be obsolete and quickly become extinct.

True.

Please don't think that solar and wind will be "free, abundant, ubiquitous and limitless." That is silly. Solar and wind are sustainable, sure, but they will not provide as much energy as burning fossil fuels has. Fossil fuels were a huge one-time boon for mankind.

Posted by: Tripp on August 6, 2008 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

Who would ever trust a guy named T. Boone Pickens for any reason at all?

I would rather do business with the ghost of Slim Pickens.

Posted by: mroberts on August 6, 2008 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

Buford >'...the point where it started really heading downhill."

The Reagan Spell is certainly at the root of the disaster that has been the last ~28 years here on Earth. Looks like it might just be dissolving.

"A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to its true principles. It is true that in the meantime we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war and long oppressions of enormous public debt..." - Thomas Jefferson

Posted by: daCascadian on August 6, 2008 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

Tripp wrote: "The big problem with electricity from wind is that there is no way to store it."

Of course there are ways to store electricity. Utility-scale lithium-ion batteries and flywheels are already in use. Energy from wind can also be stored in the form of compressed air, either in tanks or in underground caverns.

And of course concentrating solar thermal power plants can (and already do) store energy in the form of heat, which is less expensive and more efficient than storing electricity.

It has been repeatedly demonstrated in both the US and Germany that a diversified portfolio of wind, solar and biofuel generated electricity can provide reliable, 24x7 baseload power.

Contrary to your assertions, wind power most certainly is reliable, and electricity can be efficiently transported.

As Al Gore noted, most of the skepticism of his proposal that the US generate 100 percent of its electricity from clean renewable energy within 10 years comes from people who are unaware of the current state of development of these technologies. They are far more advanced than most people realize.

Huge amounts of Silicon Valley venture capital are pouring into these industries, and there is a reason for that. At a recent conference on the future of electric vehicles in the USA, the keynote speaker was not some Detroit auto industry guy -- it was Andy Grove of Intel.

There is a revolution underway -- the New Industrial Revolution of the 21st century. The people and corporations that get on the bus now will be the Microsofts and Intels of the next century.


Posted by: SecularAnimist on August 6, 2008 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

Tripp wrote: "Solar and wind are sustainable, sure, but they will not provide as much energy as burning fossil fuels has."

Of course they will. The sunlight that falls on the Earth in one hour is more energy than the entire human species uses in a year. We only need to harvest a miniscule fraction of that energy to provide all that we need.

The commercially exploitable offshore wind energy resources of the Northeastern USA alone are sufficient to provide all the electricity the entire country consumes -- and that statement can be repeated over and over, for the remaining offshore wind energy, the onshore wind energy of the midwest, the solar energy of the southwest, the wind and solar energy that can be harvested from distributed rooftop photovoltaics and micro-turbine wind generators, passive solar architecture, etc., etc.

It is within our technological reach to enter a new golden age of free, abundant, endless, clean electricity for all people, everywhere -- using the technologies that already exist and can only get better (and will get much better) with time.

Tripp wrote: "Fossil fuels were a huge one-time boon for mankind."

Fossil fuels are a curse. Their use has driven the planet to the brink of global ecological collapse and one of the greatest mass extinctions in the history of life on Earth.

It is not at all clear that we still have time in which to completely phase out their use and prevent a global catastrophe; empirical observations of ongoing global warming, climate change and self-reinforcing feedbacks (e.g. melting ice, thawing permafrost, die-off of oceanic phytoplankton due to CO2-driven ocean acidification) are consistent with the view that we are beyond the point of no return and irreversible, catastrophic warming is already locked in.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on August 6, 2008 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

The big problem with electricity from wind is that there is no way to store it.

Uh, batteries?

Wind is not reliable, and electrical power is not very mobile because there is no efficient way to . .. transport it.

Uh, power lines. That's why we have this thing called the national electrical grid. I don't think anyone envisions a future with a wind power generator in every backyard.

And if you tell me about the new battery tech I'll respond that it is a huge leap from a cell phone battery to a battery big enough to power New York City. Posted by: Tripp

Tripp, my friend, the wind is always blowing and the sun is always shining somewhere in this semi-mediocre country of ours. That being said, power generation by sun and wind needs to be localized as much as possible (except for the Hamptons, what the hell else is Long Island good for?). In any case, I live within the drainage of the third largest river in the country with the greatest hydroelectric generating capacity. So the rest of you can just hang on a cloudy windless day in January.

Ecotopia forever!


Posted by: Jeff II on August 6, 2008 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK
The big problem with electricity from wind is that there is no way to store it.

The idea that there is no way to store energy derived from the wind, either before or after converting it from mechanical to electrical energy, is beyond ludicrous; the flywheel is, literally, stone age technology, and the battery, while newer, isn't exactly the kind of thing any modern commentator on energy policy that wants to be taken seriously can be ignorant of.

Posted by: cmdicely on August 6, 2008 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK
And if you tell me about the new battery tech I'll respond that it is a huge leap from a cell phone battery to a battery big enough to power New York City.

You don't need "new battery technology" of the type used for cell phones for utility purposes; the main reason you need the kind of new battery technology used in cell phones is to build high-density storage systems for mobile applications. For utility load-leveling uses (as appear to be the storage issue you raise here) you want something else, like flow batteries.

Posted by: cmdicely on August 6, 2008 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

After:

1. Swift Boating
2. Reneging on his Swift Boating payout for being exposed promoting lies...

Why would anybody trust Pickens?

Jeff II, if you're talking about the Colorado, 20 years from now, you ain't gonna have so much hydro power. Just saying.

And, re gas shale? Supposedly, most of the producing wells in the Barnett Shale here in North Texas are break-even or losers right now.

Buford, it's also too bad that Clinton "triangulated" on a fair amount of Reaganism.

Finally, NG as a transport fuel (compared to petroleum products) has a fairly low EROEI.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on August 6, 2008 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

Not one mention that scumbag Pickens is a Swift Boat moneybags. Moreover, he wouldn't pay up when Kerry met his public challenge to prove the ads had lies. And you treat him as someone to be believed. Stupid Americans. Stupid, stupid Americans.

Posted by: Bob M on August 6, 2008 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

Beat me to it, SocraticGadfly. Hats off.

Posted by: Bob M on August 6, 2008 at 4:38 PM | PERMALINK

My conservative/Republican friends (I actually do have some, and ironically so many in Mensa) always brag about how savvy and shrewd they are compared to presumably gullible and impulsive liberals. So, why are the former so susceptible to one of the most suspicious sources of factoids?

Posted by: Neil B. ☼ on August 6, 2008 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

Jeff II >"...Ecotopia forever!"

Indeed.

Washington state exports ~15% of the energy it produces (almost all hydro) partly because it can`t be used efficiently instate. Of course it also has some of the highest gasoline prices in the nation even though there are refineries in the state (for Alaskan crude).

Plenty of solar & wind potential for future use.

“Men argue; nature acts.” - Voltaire

Posted by: daCascadian on August 6, 2008 at 4:52 PM | PERMALINK

Jeff II, if you're talking about the Colorado, 20 years from now, you ain't gonna have so much hydro power. Just saying. Posted by: SocraticGadfly

Nope. And, after Wiki-ing it, I see our main river here in Ecotopia is actually #2 after the Mississippi (No. The St. Lawrence and Ohio don't count because they don't generate power). And, dude, Grand Coulee puts out three times as much as the next largest dam in the U.S., which is on the Columbia as well.

Posted by: Jeff II on August 6, 2008 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

The problem with T B Pickins is that he might actually do some thing. Just took a trip through North Texas there's a large cluster of windmills along I40. They're a bit of an eyesore but TB's plan might not be too bad since it's narrow east to west and long north to south. There are two technologies which if they work could be world changing. Virent technologies is working on converting bio-mass to gasoline and Eestor may have the battery problem solved soon. But right now I'm for more and cheaper American oil. I'm one of those Less fortunate americans that have to drive their gas powered car until it dies.

Posted by: TruthPolitik on August 6, 2008 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

Jeff II, you're OK on the hydro, then!

(As long as folks like Kevin don't try to steal your water for SoCal!)

TruthPolitik.... even more windmills along I-20 west of Abilene.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on August 6, 2008 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

I don't necessarily support it, but I respect that he is putting forth a plan and proposing a solution. That is more than I can say for almost all of our elected officials. And besides, if he did make millions off it, who cares, if it actually worked?

Posted by: Pat on August 6, 2008 at 5:22 PM | PERMALINK

I doubt most houses in the US even have natural gas access.

I know where my parents live, where I grew up, the only natural gas is propane that's trucked in. Urban areas have pipes, but urban areas don't need the range of CNG.

It's all pretty lame, if you ask me. Let's just focus on electrics. Electrics have the bonus of not caring where the energy comes from... And if you're rural, filling up CNG is really no different than filling up with gas. It's not much of an infrastructure to build.

Posted by: Crissa on August 6, 2008 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK

Not one mention that scumbag Pickens is a Swift Boat moneybags. Moreover, he wouldn't pay up when Kerry met his public challenge to prove the ads had lies. And you treat him as someone to be believed. Stupid Americans. Stupid, stupid Americans. Posted by: Bob M

"Believed?" Yes. Pickens is an idiot and a scum (and, god bless him, Kerry was a lousy candidate though obviously the much better man).

If Pickens want to fleece a bunch of Texans by convincing them to convert their cars to CNG while still funding some wind farms, who cares? No one thinks that a NG powered car is the future. Even fucked-up GM realizes this, and Toyota, Honda and Nissan are way down the electric road already with the U.S. auto industry barely a spec in the rear view mirror.

http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5iM1CB1eycKyJY3KAEQ7LwJmZi2rw

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8995780/

http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2008/autos/0806/gallery.honda_fcx_clarity/index.html

Posted by: Jeff II on August 6, 2008 at 5:34 PM | PERMALINK

Crony capitalism got us into this mess and crony capitalism will not solve it.

Posted by: Brojo on August 6, 2008 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK

I was suspicious of the Pickens adds on TV when I first saw them. I knew it was about what was good for Pickens. He didn't become billionaire because the money feel from the sky. He took it from someone else. Now he wants $5 billion from me to fund development of NG fueling stations he would use to make billions more!! My freaking state budget is already in the hole $17 Billion. The last time the California government pretended it knew something about energy [remember the electricity debacle], we got F**ked. T. can go blow himself!

Posted by: occam on August 6, 2008 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK

Jeff II, you're OK on the hydro, then! Posted by: SocraticGadfly

Yes. But there are a few dams that we could do without. They are taking an admittedly small and insignificant dam out on a river on the Olympic peninsula to aid one of the perhaps stressed to no return salmon runs. There is another on the Columbia that was built essentially just to power a now shuttered aluminum smelter that I'd like to see go as well, though it's got a bitchin' fish ladder - monster Chinook and sturgeon! Trout the size of your forearm!

Posted by: Jeff II on August 6, 2008 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

Personally, I love electricity.

For one thing, you can do stuff with it that you can't really do with any other form of energy -- like run computers. And electric guitars.

For another, electricity is totally clean and pollution-free at the point of use. One of the virtues of electric cars is that they have zero emissions. Aside from the problems of energy supply and CO2 global warming pollution, regular old smog from car exhaust is still a hideous problem in many American cities, and switching to all electric cars would make that problem disappear.

Even with the most polluting method of generating electricity, namely coal, at least the pollution is centralized which, at least in principle, makes it easier to capture than the pollution from millions of moving sources spread out all over the place.

And electricity can be readily produced in a lot of different ways: from heat (fossil fuels, biofuels, nuclear, concentrating solar thermal), from kinetic energy (wind, hydro), and conversion of light to electricity with photovoltaics. Even by human muscle power with a pedal-driven or hand-cranked generator.

And contrary to the frequent assertions of naysayers, electricity can be easily "stored" by converting it into chemical (battery) or kinetic (flywheel, compressed air) energy. And it can be transported far more efficiently over wires than fuels that have to be pumped through pipelines or hauled in trucks and ships.

So I am a big fan of converting pretty much our entire energy economy to electricity, the major exception being the use of direct solar energy for space and water heating.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on August 6, 2008 at 5:55 PM | PERMALINK

anonymous: Pickens is taking the Ogallala Aquifer? ... Does Nebraska know anything about this?

Jeff II: The Great Plains have water problems with or without the Ogallala Aquifer ...

They have much bigger problems without it. Which is why a responsible state like Nebraska doesn't let people draw an unsustainable amount of water from it. By contrast Texas unabashedly treats it as a resource to be depleted. It's used for such vital purposes as growing subsidized cotton (a thirsty crop in a dry place), and now Swift Boat Pickens wants to ship it to Dallas.

Personally I think that Nebraska ought to declare war on Texas.

it's got a bitchin' fish ladder

Alaskans say that you people don't even know what a fish looks like. Anyway, fresh water boating and fishing is a joke - who can tell it from the kiddy pool?

Posted by: alex on August 6, 2008 at 6:03 PM | PERMALINK

Pickens' Plan has the advantage that it can be implemented more quickly without technological breakthroughs. he admits that it's a transitional step to more profound changes later on.

Pickens doesn't care about global warming or the environment, those benefits are secondary to him. He only cares about the wealth that is being transferred to the oil producing states.

Posted by: DavidinNYC on August 6, 2008 at 6:14 PM | PERMALINK

Pickens' Plan has the advantage that it can be implemented more quickly without technological breakthroughs. he admits that it's a transitional step to more profound changes later on.

Pickens doesn't care about global warming or the environment, those benefits are secondary to him. He only cares about the wealth that is being transferred to the oil producing states.

Posted by: DavidinNYC on August 6, 2008 at 6:14 PM | PERMALINK

Which is why a responsible state like Nebraska doesn't let people draw an unsustainable amount of water from it (the Ogallala Aquifer).

There is no such thing as a "sustainable amount." Everything I've read says the aquifer's toast anyway, unless we get an intermittent ice age lasting a couple hundred years to recharge it. It's a fact that rain and snow melt cannot replenish it at current usage.

Alaskans say that you people don't even know what a fish looks like. Anyway, fresh water boating and fishing is a joke - who can tell it from the kiddy pool? Posted by: alex

How silly of you.

Most of the Alaska salmon and crab fleet is based in Seattle, Puget Sound has more boats per capita than any place else in the country, and a Columbia River sturgeon could kick an Alaskan halibut's fat ass!

Posted by: Jeff II on August 6, 2008 at 6:19 PM | PERMALINK

Pickens doesn't care about global warming or the environment, those benefits are secondary to him. He only cares about the wealth that is being transferred to the oil producing states. Posted by: DavidinNYC

Rather, that should be he only cares about the wealth being transferred out of the oil producing states in the next couple of decades. His CNG scheme is a last chance to wring a bit more money out of the domestic oil and gas industry before he dies or it does.

Posted by: Jeff II on August 6, 2008 at 6:47 PM | PERMALINK

Jeff II: There is no such thing as a "sustainable amount."

Yes there is - simply don't deplete it faster than the recharge rate.

It's a fact that rain and snow melt cannot replenish it at current usage.

And that's my point - current usage in places like Texas is too high. Nebraska handles it quite responsibly.

Most of the Alaska salmon and crab fleet is based in Seattle

Even (some) Washingtonians know where to go for good fishing.

Puget Sound has more boats per capita than any place else in the country

Ah, the saltwater kiddy pool. You folks ever hear about the ocean?

and a Columbia River sturgeon

You call a sturgeon a big fish? Do they actually move? See "ocean" above.

Posted by: alex on August 6, 2008 at 6:50 PM | PERMALINK

SecularAnimist, you forgot to mention wave and tidal along with the hydro as sources of kinetic energy. And geothermal with the heat sources. A plan that includes many green point-sources of electricity will help solve our civilizations energy problems. There's no silver bullet, only many diverse local solutions. Big brother's corporation doesn't want Americans to think that thought because it can't be marketed except by independent locals.

Your posts are a succinct and convincing argument. Always gratefully appreciated!

Posted by: slanted tom on August 6, 2008 at 6:58 PM | PERMALINK

Among the other subsidies to wind power is a program of property tax abatements in Texas that are granted by school districts, but essentially paid for by the state through the school-finance system -- at a cost of $200 million a year (probably more now, with all the turbines sprouting across West Texas)

Posted by: David Siegel on August 6, 2008 at 8:31 PM | PERMALINK

that's two "kludge"s in two days. what gives?

Posted by: Sir_Jane_Russell on August 6, 2008 at 8:50 PM | PERMALINK

Those debating the issue of storing the energy from the wind turbines for future use, please check this out.

All suggestions have been obviated by the July 31, 2008 paper in the July 31st issue of "Science" in which Daniel Nocera of MIT describes a new process for storing energy, whether from solar cells, wind turbines, whatever.

http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2008/oxygen-0731.html

Basically electricity generated from, say wind turbines, produce oxygen and hydrogen from water using a new catalyst (new oxygen catalyst being readily available and cheap cobalt metal, phosphate and electrode). This makes obsolete the old electrolyzers which are very expensive and not environmentally benign. The oxygen and hydrogen can be used during down times in fuel cells to provide energy in a very efficient process.

"This is just the beginning," said Nocera, principal investigator for the Solar Revolution Project funded by the Chesonis Family Foundation and co-director of the Eni-MIT Solar Frontiers Center. "The scientific community is really going to run with this."

Posted by: Dilbert on August 6, 2008 at 9:41 PM | PERMALINK

Slanted Tom, you're right. We've just started looking at wave/tidal.

Jeff II, "Cadillac Desert" has a whole set of chapters covering the Ogallala. Not only is it going dry (I used to live at the southwestern corner of it), it's getting hugely expensive to pump up that ever-deeper water. Folks in N.M., on the eastern edge, don't like Texas folks' water pumping habits either.

The prob is that West Texas is far different from East Texas, but, unlike the mountain/intermountain states, TX doesn't have a state engineer to permit/regulate water drilling and pumping.

Hence, Pickens' focus on wind there.

(And, on the Columbia, I wasn't taking the salmon into consideration earlier.)

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on August 6, 2008 at 10:17 PM | PERMALINK

slanted tom wrote: "SecularAnimist, you forgot to mention wave and tidal along with the hydro as sources of kinetic energy. And geothermal with the heat sources."

You are absolutely right -- I did forget them (although the technology is not yet as well-developed as wind and solar and conventional hydro), and your comment reinforces my point that it makes sense to base our energy economy on electricity because it can be generated in so many diverse ways.

Another point I forgot to make is that electricity generation is inherently scalable, from large centralized utility-scale power plants (e.g. concentrating solar thermal, wind turbine "farms", large hydropower) to small-scale distributed generation (e.g. rooftop photovoltaics, micro-turbine wind generators, etc.), all of which can be integrated through the next-generation "smart grid", which Al Gore has referred to as the "Electranet".

Electricity from offshore wind energy can power New York City, and electricity from small portable PV systems can power villages in rural Africa.

Electricity is the way to go.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on August 7, 2008 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

How stupid are we? We Cry a moan about global warming and oil we bitch about the oil companies and the goverment lack in abilities to secure our energy needs and then someone tried to do something about it and because he is a rich republican we try to tear him apart. Sad Sad Sad. I don't care if he makes money off of cleaning up our mess. It won't be the broke people on wellfare that have the resources to start changing the infrastructure of our energy deliver Systems. Maybe we should pay iran to come and secure american intrests. come on people. Stop already. If you don't like his Plan come up with your own and use your own billions to change this county. I am sickened by the ignorance of this.

Posted by: Mitchell Matthews on August 8, 2008 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

Okay Kevin,

I'm glad you have given a critical response to Pickens. It seems the media is quick to fall in bed with him. I too am highly critical of Pickens, but not for his motivations. In fact I agree with parts of his plan, and I am shocked you wrote what you wrote about two particular issues. As best I can tell, these aren't the typical myths we see associated with energy. All at once you seem to have concocted two brand new ones. With all due respect, you should look into these things and offer a correction in the form of a new article.

1) Yes, providing the infrastructure for filling NG vehicles would be much easier than doing so for electric. Here's why:

Like electricity, NG is plummed into many many homes in the U.S. and can be used to fill our tanks. Unlike electricity, the massive shift to NG would not cause black outs and rolling brown outs due to demand increases present by merely making 5% of our vehicles electric. NG burns much more clean than gasoline or coal-fire electricity we will be forced to generate if we do not use the best source available....?

2) NG Reserves are enormous in this country. We have plenty of NG to meet our needs (hopefully to "bridge" over to Gasoline-Hybrids, maybe(?) NG-Hybrids, and Plug-in Hybrids, etc.

Furthermore, since you did not mention the actual problems with wind (intermittency) and the HUGE demand for nuclear (best source available) to supply any huge (above just 5%) fleet replacement of electric vehicles, I must respectfully ask you to publish another article to provide a better understanding to your readers.

Again, kuddos on slicing T. Boone, but there ARE solutions to be discussed. Be careful not to throw out the proverbial fuel rods with the cooling water.

Posted by: Tim on August 13, 2008 at 3:59 AM | PERMALINK

The only way we can be energy indy is to go local.

We should return all lands held by the Bankrupt and Irresponsible Criminals in DC to the various States.
Then there will be opportunities to go after resources Big Oil currently ties up, thanks to a compliant CONgress.

There is a greatly overlooked energy source that resides where people live: Primary treated waste water, it is full of nitrogen and phosphates and can feed cattails in man made marshes on marginal land like empty gravel pits. We can easily generate 100 billion gallons of gasoline eq. as methane (NG) and 50 billion gallons of ethanol on an average of ten sections per County, replacing all gasoline in current use. Cleaner rivers too as the nutrients have been removed and water coming out of the marsh will make tertiary treatment standards.

It's all in "Alcohol can be a Gas" by David Blume
http://tinyurl.com/56rrda

Posted by: Robert Jackman on August 26, 2008 at 9:15 AM | PERMALINK

Aside from T.Boone Pickens cornering the market on the water from the Ogallala Aquifer, note this: Oct.23,2006- Paraguayan source confirmed that George Bush Sr. recently bought over 100,000 acres of land in Paraguay's "Chaco" region. The land sits atop the Guarani aquifer - one of the world's largest. It is said this aquifer could supply fresh drinking water to the world for 200 years.
I find it EXTREMELY interesting that both these multi-multi-millionaires seem to be cornering water. Given the histories of the two, I would not think that this bodes anything but trouble for people everywhere. I think this whole thing should be brought to everyone's attention and an investigation should be undertaken ----immediately. Just exactly what are they planning?

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