Yesterday, legendary oilman T. Boone Pickens unveiled his plan to wean America off of its foreign oil addiction. The guy doesn't need any additional PR -- Pickens is getting coverage from mainstream news outlets to YouTube and Facebook -- but the plan is worth perusing.
The Pickens Plan basically has two prongs:
- Build $1 trillion worth of wind facilities in gusty Middle America, plus another $200 billion in transmission infrastructure, in order to provide 20% of our annual electricity needs.
- Take all the natural gas presently used to fire power plants that would be offset by this wind power and use it as a transportation fuel instead.
Obviously this isn't a solution for the long term, because it shifts our dependence from one depleting hydrocarbon resource to another. But as a bridge to more sustainable arrangements, the idea holds some appeal.
Government research indicates that wind power is cost-competitive with new coal-fired plants. Throw in environmental and legislative concerns, and it's pretty clear why proposed coal plants are getting scrapped, while planned wind facilities equal somewhere around 13 times the current U.S. installed base. Developers are throwing up turbines as fast as General Electric (NYSE: GE ) and Siemens (NYSE: SI ) can build them.
Also, in terms of natural gas versus oil, there are both security and economic benefits to cutting down on those ocean voyages from West Africa and the Middle East -- bad for Frontline (NYSE: FRO ) , but good for Joe Driver. We've also recently unlocked a tremendous amount of potential natural gas supply in North America, thanks to shale Sherlocks like Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK ) and XTO Energy (NYSE: XTO ) , and supply is coming online much faster than deepwater oil projects in the Gulf of Mexico.
There are plenty of potential problems with this plan, many of which have been addressed elsewhere. First of all, while I'm sure transmission titan ITC Holdings (NYSE: ITC ) would love to string up new power lines stretching from the Midwest to both coasts, I'm equally sure this centralization wouldn't be a great arrangement from the perspective of either energy efficiency or security. Second, the current lead time for wind turbines from the leading manufacturers stretches out several years. While bearings baron Kaydon (NYSE: KDN ) should be able to manage its growth in this area, scaling up turbine manufacturing fast enough to achieve Pickens' vision will be a major challenge.