Pickens: Renewable energy sources a must for U.S.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA - As he prepares to address a wind-power conference in Oklahoma, billionaire energy magnate T. Boone Pickens said it shouldn't seem strange that a longtime oilman is interested in wind and other alternative energy sources.

"It's not totally unrelated to the oil business," Pickens told The Associated Press. "It's an energy business. It's easy for me to make the transition to wind. If we hadn't had such a tough year in the market, we were looking seriously at a couple of solar ideas."

The 80-year-old Pickens, who heads the Dallas-based hedge fund BP Capital Management LP, in July launched his so-called "Pickens Plan" for energy independence. The multimedia campaign is designed to bring more focus to solving the nation's energy crisis.

The plan calls for developing renewable energy sources and using natural gas as a transportation fuel to help wean the U.S. from its dependency on foreign oil.

"I like renewables because they're in America," Pickens said. "We have to get off of foreign oil. It's easy. The only resource we have in America that can go head-to-head to compete with diesel or gas... is natural gas."

Pickens is proposing using natural gas as a transportation fuel — particularly for heavy-duty vehicles such as tractor-trailers — and developing wind and solar energy technology to replace natural gas now used to generate electricity.

He has traveled across the U.S. speaking about the plan. Pickens will be a keynote speaker at "Revolution — The Oklahoma Wind Energy Conference," which will be held Tuesday and Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

Pickens has leased hundreds of thousands of acres for a giant wind farm in the Texas Panhandle, where he plans to erect 2,700 turbines. He has said that plans for the wind farm will be delayed by about a year, until 2011, because of the economic downturn.

He's also spoken with key policy makers in Washington, including U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill. — who will be the chief of staff for President-elect Barack Obama — and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the new chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

"They like renewables, no question," Pickens said. "They like the natural gas for the heavy duty (vehicles). That's been the conversation. I talked to Waxman.... What he said is the same thing I say."

Wind energy is becoming increasingly popular in Oklahoma. In September, University of Oklahoma President David Boren announced that OU's Norman campus will be completely powered by wind by 2013. Boren said then it was one of the largest renewable energy commitments ever made by a public university in the United States.

OU was the second Oklahoma university to make the switch to 100 percent wind power, following the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, which did so in April 2006.

Now a school in the often-windy Oklahoma Panhandle also is converting. Yarbrough Public School, about 35 west of Goodwell, recently installed a 50-kilowatt wind turbine, which is mounted on a 100-foot tower about 100 yards south of the school.

The tower began producing power for the school in October. School Superintendent Jim Wiggin said it's expected that half of the school's electricity will be generated by the tower, enough to pay off the cost of turbine within nine years.

"Now we are just hoping it works like we expect it to," Wiggin said.

Pickens praised such efforts.

"That's leadership, and leadership, people follow," Pickens said. "I see that.... Everybody is going to move in that direction because it's the right thing to do."

Pickens said as oil and natural gas prices rose to record levels earlier this year, interest increased in wind energy, but the current lower prices for fossil fuels has — in some quarters — reduced the eagerness to pursue alternative energy sources.

That's a mistake, he said.

"We just need to get a plan and stick with it and not be so quick to change when the (gas) price goes down," Pickens said. "That's been the yo-yo we've had since the '70s... in the '70s, '80s, '90s and now you're in 2008 and you're hearing it again."


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