Pickens Plan Sounds Like A Poor Pick For We The People

09/06/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

We've all heard the latest about T. Boone Pickens, the Texas oil-and-gas-billionaire who's now running commercials trying to sell Americans his energy plan. Pickens wants to use wind power to make electricity, and use the natural gas now burned by electric power plants to fuel cars and trucks instead, reducing our dependence on foreign oil.

If you think you can trust Pickens, remember he contributed $3 million to the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth that buried John Kerry's 2004 presidential candidacy in a cesspool of lies. But things like that are not supposed to count any more, because now that he's presented his plan, Pickens says he's no longer a Republican, and has stopped contributing to political campaigns (even though he's a McCain supporter).

Pickens insists his plan is not about making money for himself, says he's strictly acting as a patriot. After all, he says, he's 80 years old and worth $4 billion. But if you really think his motives are unselfish, consider just one example: Pickens has bought up ground water rights for 200,000 acres in one Texas county for $75 million, estimating his investment will someday be worth over $1 billion."I know what people say -- water's a lot like air. Do you charge for air? 'Course not; you shouldn't charge for water," Pickens said to CBS News two years ago. ."Well, OK, watch what happens. You won't have any water."

In other words, the former Swift Boat financier and corporate raider is still a real sweetheart. Here's more about the Pickens Plan from one of my favorite bloggers, Kevin Drum of Washington Monthly:

What Pickens actually wants to do is use the windmills to replace the electricity from existing power plants that run on natural gas. Then we can use the natural gas to run our cars.

Hmmm. That's a bit of a kludge, isn't it? Why do it that way? Is it really easier to build a massive infrastructure for fueling NG cars than it is to build an infrastructure for electric cars? And who's going to force all those gas-fired power plants to shut down anyway?

Well, as near as I can tell, here's the story. Pickens wants to build his electricity transmission facilities on a strip of land 250 feet wide and 250 miles long that starts at his farm in Roberts County, Texas, and terminates in Dallas -- and that's a strip of land that would normally be pretty hard to acquire. But Pickens managed to get the Texas legislature to use its power of eminent domain to hand it over to a little water district he created with his wife and a friend. Pickens plans to use it to pipe water at enormous profit from his land to Dallas (apparently he's been buying up massive water rights from the Ogallala aquifer), and as long as he's got all this cheap land, he figures he might as well build electricity-transmission towers on it too.

Clever -- and typically Texan, no? Still, why not just sell the electricity? Why the natural gas switcheroo? Turns out Pickens has a vested interest there too.

Here, Drum excerpts two paragraphs from an op-ed by Anthony Rubenstein, a consultant on clean technology, in the July 29 Los Angeles Times:

Along with being the country's biggest wind power developer, Pickens owns Clean Energy Fuels Corp., a natural gas fueling station company that is the sole backer of the stealthy Proposition 10 on California's November ballot.

....But a closer read finds a laundry list of cash grabs -- from $200 million for a liquefied natural gas terminal to $2.5 billion for rebates of up to $50,000 for each natural gas vehicle. Much of the measure's billions could benefit Pickens' company to the exclusion of almost all other clean-vehicle fuels and technology.

So the windmills are an excuse to condemn land for a water pipeline, and the natural gas piece of the plan benefits Pickens' NG fueling station company. And while natural gas burns cleaner than oil, it's still a fossil fuel that's found mostly in Russia and the Middle East. Increasing our dependence on gas does little in the long term to promote energy independence.

Now, generally speaking, I don't have any problem with people making money from clean energy. That's how we're going to get more of it, after all. But between his water-fueled eminent domain land grab in Texas and his support for a $5 billion bond measure in California, Pickens sure is using a lot of government dough to benefit himself. Something tells me there must be a better way to promote wind power than this.

A lot of government dough, heck, if the Feds support the Pickens Plan, he'll end up with a lot, lot more. The big question is whether the rest of us will end up with anything worthwhile.