What a difference a year makes. In July 2008, Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens offered up the “Pickens Plan” to end U.S. dependence on foreign oil by producing more electricity from huge wind farms, and running vehicles on natural gas instead of gasoline. To kick-start the transformation, Pickens announced that he would construct the biggest wind farm ever in Texas. Pickens announced that his company, Mesa Power LP, would order 687 wind turbines, or 1,000 megawatts of capacity, from GE for about $2 billion. By 2014, he expected to expand the Panhandle wind farm to 4,000 megawatts. That’s a massive amount of wind power. One nuclear power reactor is typically about 1,000 megawatts of capacity. Most wind farms offer only a few hundred megawatts [Dallas Morning News].
Now, one year later, Pickens has declared that he’s canceling the enormous Texas wind farm for the foreseeable future, and is scrambling to figure out where to place the 687 wind turbines that he already ordered. (He may end up establishing five or six small wind farms in the Midwest, Pickens suggested.) The project was largely done in by major problems with electricity transmission. Wind farms and other forms of clean energy are usually located in remote locations and require huge new transmission lines to carry the electricity to cities. Mr. Pickens initially hoped to finance the construction of his own transmission lines but was unable to secure funding [The Wall Street Journal].
Pickens’s decision to pull the plug on his ambitious project highlights the troubles faced by the wind power industry in general of late. With credit costlier and harder to come by, and oil and natural gas prices down sharply over the past year, the nation’s nascent wind industry may begin to focus on smaller projects that are closer to major population centers rather than massive developments like 81-year-old Pickens envisioned, industry officials said. “You’ve got an industry that is kind of hanging on by its fingernails,” said Denise Bode, chief executive of the American Wind Energy Association [Reuters].
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Image: flickr / jurvetson