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Pickens Plan: Boon or Boondoggle?

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Barry Krusch       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink

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The Pickens Plan, which oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens released in July 2008, has recently received a great deal of press and is the focus of a multi-pronged, multimillion dollar ad campaign. The plan aims to dramatically intensify wind energy production throughout the Great Plains corridor, and build out an electric grid to feed this power to urban centers. This part of the plan is vital to our urgent need for alternative, sustainable energy production. But the plan will only trade dependence on one fossil fuel for another instead of proving a viable solution to the peak oil crisis: one major piece of the Pickens Plan is to power cars with natural gas, which though cleaner than gasoline, still emits CO2, is finite, and exists in larger quantities outside of the United States. One important question we need to be asking is, How long will it be before we reach peak natural gas? Or worse, Have we already reached it?

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, marketed production of natural gas in the United States has already begun to fall. We currently import 19 percent of the natural gas we consume Outside of the United States, Russia, Iran, and Qatar have the largest reserves, 27%, 16%, and 15% respectively. Transitioning to natural gas dependency will only continue our current reliance upon world markets and other countries' gas supplies. And we cannot safely assume that Russia and Iran will become our economic allies. Its import from other countries would turn our ports into potential flash points. To be shipped, natural gas must first be liquefied, then shipped in specially designed containers to ports that are equipped to handle the dangerous material. It must then heated back to its gaseous state.

Another danger of dependency upon natural gas is this: Colin Campbell, geologist and founder of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas (ASPO), reports that natural gas supplies will drop precipitously after a plateau, as if dropping off a cliff, unlike the steady decline of oil. This "cliff" is predicted to occur somewhere between 2010 and 2020. So you could say that we're close enough to the edge to peer over into the abyss. What then?

As Pickens claims on his website at www.pickensplan.com/theplan, natural gas is 30% cleaner than gasoline. But this means that automobiles powered by natural gas still emit 70% of the CO2 emitted by internal combustion engines. And considering the enormous infrastructure that would need to be implemented to handle the switch to natural gas-including fueling stations and new cars-the cost becomes an unnecessary, even dangerous, burden. Perhaps more importantly, is it worth the time (that is rapidly diminishing) to switch? It would cost approximately $4 to $5 trillion to replace 200 million vehicles at $20,000 per vehicle.

As far as the infrastructure necessary for the massive transition to natural gas cars, the Pickens Plan fails to address what to do with the country's extensive electrical infrastructure currently in place. Why not feed wind power to the grid? With PHEV-40 vehicles (plug-in hybrid electric), which travel 40 miles on one charge, and standard electric cars, the wind-energy infrastructure could power automobiles through the electrical grid and reduce gas consumption from 50% to 70%.

In the U.S. Department of Energy's report, 20% Wind Energy by 2030, Based on the EIA's goal of 20% Wind Scenario-wind generating 20% of U.S. electricity needs-wind turbines would supply almost 1.16 billion MWh (megawatt hours) by 2030, displacing nearly 50% of gas consumption through electric utilities and 11% of the country's overall demand for natural gas. Therefore, let the gas continue to be used for purposes it has been serving, such as for industrial uses (metals preheating, waste treatment, glass melting) and commercial uses (cooling and cooking), as well as for manufacturing certain products and chemicals.

The Pickens Plan's focus on enormous electric grids would also exacerbate our already centralized methods of power generation at the expense of distributed power generation (such as solar thermal and photovoltaic), which is located at the point of contact at the home. Solar thermal power can displace electricity for heating water and can instead be used to charge electric cars. Such distributed power generation is also much less vulnerable than large centralized plants.

The problem with the Pickens Plan is that there is too much Pickens and not enough Plan. It is a simple approach, but the simplicity leaves many gaps. A plan is comprehensive and detailed, and incorporates an array of approaches, with deadlines and milestones. It contains the analytic data that shows that future energy needs can be met at the lowest possible cost: the Pickens Plan does not do this. Because it is not actually a comprehensive plan, the Pickens approach omits a whole host of cost-effective options, including moving businesses to telecommuting, reducing the workweek for those businesses creating carpooling software, intellitaxis, car sharing, movement to alternative vehicle types such as electric motorcycles, etc. Furthermore, the Pickens Plan does not address societal inefficiencies (i.e. magnet schools with kids coming from miles away, lack of HOV lanes, high schools which allow kids to park increasing auto use, businesses which operate in 5 day workweeks when only 4 are required, business which don't offer telecommuting, etc). These inefficiencies add enormous costs, and addressing these inefficiencies will be not only be cheaper but will achieve the desired result of displacing gasoline consumption more quickly.

Pickens himself outlined parameters of legitimacy for other plans. In a news release, Pickens stated the following:

''I believe that elements of any realistic plan to reduce our deadly addiction to foreign oil should encompass the following:-



- Will it slash oil imports by at least 30% in 10 years?-

- Does it rely 100% on domestic energy resources?-

- Does it rely on existing and proven technologies?-

- Can it be on line within 10 years?-

- Can it be done by private investment?''

There are at least 3 other plans that meet these criteria (and many other criteria that Pickens did not list). The first is Plan B, formulated by Lester Brown, which pools conservation with a movement to alternate energy sources. The second is Plan C, by Pat Murphy, which posits as a solution a form of extreme conservation that he refers to as curtailment. And then there is a third plan proposed by The Intelligent Community Initiative, called Operation Energy Transition. Operation Energy Transition, currently under preparation, incorporates the best aspects of the Pickens Plan as well as Plan B and Plan C, and additional ideas. It is, however, much, much cheaper than the Pickens Plan, and will work much faster because it contains an implementing strategy known as the Intelligent Community Initiative, about which more can be discovered by visiting www.theintelligentcommunity.com.

Written by Kat Bundy and Barry Krusch

 

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Barry Krusch is president of Intelligent Communities, Inc., sponsors of The Intelligent Community Initiative. He is also author of 2 books, The 21st Century Constitution and Would The Real First Amendment Please Stand Up?

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