Energychallenge’s Weblog


T. Boone Pickens’ Energy Plan

The cornerstone of the Pickens Plan is to use wind power to generate 20% of the nation’s electric power, largely replacing natural gas. To his credit, Pickens has recently invested some $2 billion in wind power in Texas. He wants to use the natural gas currently being used to generate electricity to power cars, trucks and buses. Natural gas is already being used on a very limited basis to power some vehicles and on the surface, Pickens’ energy plan sounds plausible.

Does the Pickens Energy Plan make sense? Maybe not. Using wind power to generate a significant percentage of our electric power makes sense. The problem is with using natural gas to power a large portion of America’s vehicles. For the foreseeable future, natural gas is a relatively clean, abundant and efficient fuel for generating electric power. Using natural gas to power vehicles will require an infrastructure for fueling, building and maintaining the vehicles. Building the infrastructure will take time and money. More thought needs to be put into deciding on a sensible approach for powering America’s and the world’s cars and trucks. Does it make sense to have a mix of vehicles powered by gasoline, natural gas, electricity, ethanol and hydrogen? Probably not. Infrastructure problems supporting a large mix of vehicles will likely require choosing one or two energy sources for powering our cars, trucks and buses. Natural gas may make sense for buses and trucks that are used locally within metropolitan areas where the infrastructure can be established and maintained.

Most Americans use their cars both locally and for long distance trips. This requires cars to have a long range without the need to refuel, and having access to a way to quickly refuel or re-power cars at many locations across the country. Electric cars and hybrid cars using hydrogen, gasoline, ethanol or another bio-fuel are the most likely solutions. It appears that electricity will be a significant source of energy for powering cars and with that in mind, any national energy plan must focus on generating lots of clean, affordable electricity using wind, solar power, geothermal power, wave power, nuclear power, clean coal and natural gas, and eventually nuclear fusion power.

The bottom line is that Pickens is right to call attention for the need for a national energy plan that achieves energy independence, and that focuses heavily on wind and other renewable energy sources. There is no need to rush into using natural gas for powering vehicles n a large scale, with the possible exception of powering buses and trucks used in intra-city situations. It is doubtful that natural gas makes sense for powering cars across the country.

To replace the costly foreign oil, it probably makes sense to drill for more oil domestically, to very significantly increase requirements for automobile fuel efficiency (possibly eliminating SUVs), and to get hybrid cars on the road as soon as possible. Ethanol also makes sense, especially if we focus on ethanol made from sugar cane. Why not grow more sugar cane in the U.S. (remember the annual Sugar Bowl football game….we can grow more sugar cane here in the U.S.), eliminate tariffs on ethanol imported from Brazil, and encourage growing sugar cane in Cuba, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and other places in Latin America?   

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