Until recently, T. Boone Pickens was better known for greenmail than green energy. Pickens – oilman turned corporate raider – leveraged Mesa Petroleum and Michael Milliken’s junk bonds to make billions during the 1980’s hostile takeover craze.
But with his recent $10 billion tilt toward Texas wind farms and solar, who’s to say whether Pickens is an energy visionary or just the consummate frontrunning egomaniac? One thing is certain: Pickens has always had a plan, and he’s been spotting trends and making fortunes in energy for over half a century.
The “Pickens Plan” is basically a $58 million marketing campaign to wean the US off foreign oil within 10 years by using natural gas for vehicles, and wind and solar for utilities – and for Pickens to receive as much credit for it as possible.
During his 30-minute pitch at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on March 25, Pickens hardly mentioned pollution or global warming, instead pushing national security and economics to close the deal. “I want to get off foreign oil,” Pickens says, “the biggest transfer of wealth in human history.”
The US spends $450 billion per year and climbing on foreign oil – which he forecasts selling for $70 per barrel in the near-term and $200-300 per barrel within 5 years – if we continue with “no plan” when the economy recovers. This, says Pickens, would bankrupt the US, already beholden to unfriendly state-owned oil producers.
Pickens is “wait and see” on cap and trade – hardly surprising for the long-time conservative who supported George W. Bush and underwrote the Swiftboating of John Kerry. But Pickens wholeheartedly endorses Obama’s stimulus, energy, and budget plans – especially investment and tax credits and focusing on new transmission lines first – claiming it’s “my plan.” His only caveat, he told Obama during the campaign, was to “think big.” For example, he asked, why pledge to have 10 million plug-in cars on the market within 10 years, when there are 250 million vehicles in the US?
Jim Rossi is a writer and consultant based in San Francisco: firstname.lastname@example.org.