I am beginning to think T. Boone Pickens was exactly right last year when he told the Senate's Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee that Americans should build wind turbines in the Midwest to generate electricity.
Pickens is a billionaire Texas oilman and presumably won't suffer personally if this country insists on continuing to depend so heavily on foreign and domestic oil and natural gas to meet its huge energy needs. But he warned the Senate that oil could go up to $300 a barrel in 10 years as supplies drop unless the country gets serious about developing an energy policy.
Pickens has put his money where his month is. He has spent $58 million on a publicity tour promoting his plan to build wind turbines. The electricity they generated would replace the 22 percent of U.S. power now produced by natural gas. The latter could now be used for transportation.
Pickens said the government itself could begin building transmissions lines for wind-generated power. Or it could provide the right of way on private land and extend tax credits so the private sector could build the lines.
"If the government wanted to build a grid," Pickens said, "do it. But if they don't want to do it, I think the money is there to do it private, and so it's kind of like either do it or get out of the way, but give us the corridors to put it in and it'll be done. You could do this on a very, very fast track if you wanted."
According to the Classified Press, Pickens has leased hundreds of thousands of acres in West Texas for a giant wind farm, where he plans to erect 2,700 turbines to produce energy for urban areas such as Dallas and Fort Worth. He has also asked Congress to extend a 2005 law speeding up the creation of energy corridors, and to give him control over any transmission lines he builds for wind-generated power.
Experts are already arguing over the details of Pickens' proposal. But it is impossible to quarrel with his basic point, which is that American energy demands are huge and increasing and that we must develop new technologies to meet the demand.
Pickens also called on a 10-year extension of a tax credit for energy procedures. He estimated this would cost taxpayers about $15 billion a year in production tax credits for 200,000 megawatts of wind power. But he rightly noted this doesn't seem very large when compared with the $700 billion going out of the country every year for the purchase of oil.
In the broader view, what is desperately needed is some sort of overall energy policy for the United States, and Congress has thus far simply failed to provide one. The oil interests certainly don't want one, because they know that any such policy would be bound to diminish their current stranglehold on the country's energy needs. But the nation's needs are paramount, and the solution is plain. We must expand our reliance on wind-power -- yes, and solar power too -- while there is still time.