T. Boone Pickens: The U.S. needs a 'wind bank'

Underscoring how the credit crisis has short-fused many clean energy projects, T. Boone Pickens argues for federal government loans for wind developers to reduce oil imports.

INDIAN WELLS, Calif.--Billionaire and clean-energy proponent T. Boone Pickens said that the U.S. should establish a federally funded loan program, or bank, to finance large-scale wind developments.

Pickens spoke on Wednesday at the Clean-Tech Investor Summit here where he talked about his Pickens Plan for reducing imports of foreign oil. He also offered a number of energy policy recommendations.

His plan, launched in July, calls for spending $150 billion over the next 10 years to install turbines in the "wind corridor" of the Midwest United States, from Texas to Canada. The other major plank of the plan is to convert vehicles to run on domestic natural gas.

T. Boone Pickens speaks at the Clean-Tech Investor Summit in Palm Springs, California. Martin LaMonica/CNET Networks

In both areas--wind and natural gas--Boone has business interests. If completed, his Mesa Power wind project will make 4,000 megawatts of electricity, which would make it one of the largest wind farms, capable of powering 1.3 million homes.

Boone has made a down payment on $2 billion worth of General Electric wind turbines, which are set for delivery in 2011. The credit crisis, however, has disrupted the financing for the project , although Boone still thinks the project will get done.

"There's no money to finance it, but I think it's all going to happen. I'm an optimistic entrepreneur type," he said.

To help wind developers and achieve the Pickens Plan target of 20 percent of electricity from wind, Boone said that the U.S. government should establish a "wind bank" that would give wind developers loans.

A wind bank would be a "fraction" of the projected $825 million in federal spending on a stimulus package, he said. It would also be cheaper than continuing to spend money on foreign oil, he argued.

Pickens says he is not opposed to other clean energy technologies, like battery-powered cars. But heavy-duty vehicles can't run on batteries effectively. One diesel garbage truck emits as much pollution as 350 cars.

To overcome that, he proposes an investment of $28 billion to purchase 350,000 heavy trucks that run on natural gas. The fueling infrastructure will follow once those trucks are on the road and corporations start to replace their fleets.

"You cannot get to the conclusion that we can reduce foreign oil in a significant way without using natural gas," he said.

The oil tycoon and life-long Republican has advised a number of politicians on how to cut oil imports. He has also spent $58 million on a public awareness campaign, which he says is successful because the media and politicians now regularly talk about energy.

Back story on the Pickens Plan
In a briefing with reporters, Pickens offered some color on how he decided to launch the plan.

He met with former President Bush in April 2008 to urge him to adopt the core ideas of the Pickens Plan and establish an "energy legacy."

Bush's response, according to Boone, was that he wouldn't have enough time to meet the goals. Six weeks later, Boone had still gotten no response from the Bush administration.

One night at two o'clock in the morning, he woke his wife up and told her: "Somebody's got to do this." Shortly after, he began work on the public awareness campaign.

"I said, 'Hell, it's up to me.' I honestly felt it was the patriotic thing to do. I'm 80, I got the money to do it, so let's just go ahead and do it," he explained.

He said if current trends continue, the U.S. will be importing 75 percent of its oil in 2019--more than today--and be paying high prices--in the $200 to $300 range--because of the supply cannot keep up with the demand.

In doing focus groups in conjunction with launching the Pickens Plan, the billionaire found that many Americans don't believe what politicians say about energy. But he said he doesn't fault them. "They're not lying. They really don't understand energy," he said.

Pickens met with Barack Obama during the campaign and has met with his transition team twice. He says it's clear that the administration is committed to green technology.

"(Obama) is a charismatic guy. I think he can pull it off and it will bring everybody together," he said.

 

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