Oil billionaire delays wind farm plans

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - Billionaire T. Boone Pickens said that his Texas wind farm is on hold because natural-gas prices have dropped but that his plan for wind power and natural-gas vehicles is still viable to reduce foreign oil imports.

The Texas oil tycoon spoke to about 650 utility and investment officials gathered in Phoenix for the Edison Electric Institute Financial Conference.

Pickens launched an advertising campaign last summer to promote wind farms to generate electricity and to use natural gas to power vehicles.

"I'm the only person in the United States that has a plan," he said. "Senator Obama and his people have been in touch with mine. They see the merits of what we are doing.


Pickens said the U.S. needs to exploit all its resources, from solar power in Arizona to coal and nuclear energy, but that few things could cut foreign oil imports quickly.

He said neither Obama's plans for 1 million plug-in hybrid vehicles nor John McCain's plans for 45 more nuclear plants would make a dent in oil imports, but semitrucks fueled by natural gas could reduce oil demand for the next 20 years before better transportation technology is available.

"It's a bridge to the next generation, which will probably be the battery, the fuel cell," he said. "It won't be the hydrocarbon."

But the current drop in oil and natural-gas prices is slowing things down.

Until natural-gas prices rise, Pickens said his wind farm and most others in the country will not go forward because electricity from gas plants will be more economical. Still, he was confident prices would rise.

He said Americans haven't understood the nation's energy challenges because prices have been low, until last summer when oil hit a record $147 a barrel.

"You haven't had the leadership in Washington to tell us what the problem was," he said. "The American people did not realize where we were. When oil went to $100, I had a story to tell."

Steven Dreyer, managing director at Standard and Poor's, credited Pickens for raising awareness.

"Arguably, for the first time, ordinary people were able to connect the dots between carbon reduction and energy," Dreyer said.

Ron Insana, managing director of SAC Capital Advisors and former CNBC commentator, questioned Pickens about how he will benefit financially by such a plan through his wind farm and large stake in Clean Energy Fuels Corp., a natural-gas, vehicle-fueling company.

Pickens described his potential to profit from wind and natural gas but said his motivations are patriotic.

"I'd rather be playing golf at the Del Mar Country Club this afternoon," Pickens said. "But I truly believe this is good for the country."

Pickens believes that global oil production has already "peaked" and that it will continue to become scarcer and more expensive, despite the current lull in gas prices.

He is founder and chairman of energy-investment company BP Capital and founded Mesa Petroleum, a natural-gas and oil producer. He is a geologist by training.

"When I launched my plan July 8, gas prices were $4.11 a gallon, and now they're half that. I think I've done a pretty good job," he said to chuckles from the audience.

He predicted oil, which closed November 11 at $59, to be $100 a barrel within a year, and could be $300 a barrel by 2018.

Pickens supports domestic drilling but said that can't come close to meeting daily U.S. oil demand.


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