Genii Weblog

I think he has a pretty good point

Wed 9 Jul 2008, 10:22 AM

by Ben Langhinrichs
To start with, T. Boone Pickens is not one of my favorite people.  I don't much like his politics.  I don't like a lot of things about him.  And also, obviously, he wants to make money off this plan.  I don't blame him.  I think alternative energy will be one of the driving economic forces of the next century.  But I also think his plan has some merit, and I also think anybody willing to seriously push wind energy in the U.S. should be taken seriously.  So, put your cynicism on hold for a few minutes, click on the image below and listen to what he has to say.  Let me know in the comments what you think, because I know you are all a bunch of smart people who may have different perspectives on this.

Copyright 2008 Genii Software Ltd.

What has been said:

701.1. Curt Carlson
(07/09/2008 07:52 AM)

I like any plan that promotes wind power to produce energy. Here in Maine we have had quite a bit of opposition to wind turbines by people who think that the towers detract from the landscape. These people need to get their heads out of their butts and get with the program. We cannot afford not to take advantage of this renewable resource. IMHO Wind turbines are the best alternative available to us today.

701.2. Dave Gallagher
(07/09/2008 10:56 AM)

"Only Nixon could go to China." As a hydrocarbon heavy, Pickens (about whom I share your opinion) can be taken seriously by those who would not give a tree hugger the time of day. His argument is pure economics... evidence of the fact that he's a born salesman who knows his audience.

I'll support any effort to get the ball rolling, as long as it's in the right direction. Increased use of wind is the right direction.

701.3. Charles Robinson
(07/09/2008 02:17 PM)

He has a point, but he's hardly unbiased. He's pushing wind because his company is installing a wind farm. :-p Regardless of his conflict of interest alternative energy makes a LOT of sense.

To me solar or a hybrid wind/solar system makes more sense than relying solely on wind. Solar costs more than wind for initial installation but provides more consistent output, requires less maintenance, and can be used in more areas of the country. A 100 mile x 100 mile area with the right solar technologies could theoretically produce enough power for the entire US.

Whatever approach is taken there are technologies available that could reduce our reliance on foreign energy sources, and they should be pursued aggressively.

701.4. Doug Finner
(07/09/2008 04:45 PM)

Love him or hate him, you can't deny they guy is good at what he does and what he does is make tons of money.

The _only_ thing that's going to make 'alternative energy' something real is for it to make economic sense and that means somebody is going to have to make a boatload of money.

The sooner oil is less profitable than , the better and it T. Boone can facilitate that conversion, I'm all in.

701.5. Andrew Pollack
(07/09/2008 09:35 PM)

Hey Curt! Even though you may be my neighbor, I'm going to disagree with you here on Ben's space...

While it may be useful in a specific locations to provide "spot" power, wind is ultimately a distraction when you're talking about a real solution to dependence on oil. There just isn't enough of it to do the job.

We need to quit distracting ourselves with pretty looking solutions and build about a hundred fission nuke plants. Modern nuke plants are extremely safe, are relatively pollution free (the difference is that what little waste they do produce is kept on site, not spewed into the air a little each day to become someone else's problem.

I see wind power the same way I see solar and "food" power. They big oil companies love them because they know how it benefits them long term to have us taking our eye off the ball.

701.6. Ben Langhinrichs
(07/10/2008 04:54 AM)

Curt - I'm not sure I would agree that wind turbines are the "best alternative available", but they are certainly one of the best short term solutions, and along with solar, they represent one of the best distributed solutions.

Dave - This was exactly my thinking. Given the clout of the oil companies in our government, it will take an oil heavyweight to make the case for alternative energies. I wish it weren't so, but like Nixon and China, sometimes that is what works.

Charles - I agree that his plan overly focused on wind given that is where he is betting his money. Solar power is an important part of the mix, but unlike wind, it is often better "on location". In the long run, we would do well to have at least passive solar used all over the place, and "active solar" used in places where wind and nuclear would not be feasible.

Doug - Given that the U.S., as a country, is supposed to be such believers in capitalism, it would make sense to harness that as a motivator to reaching the goals of both energy independence and diversity. Brazil has combined a focus on capitalism and government support/pressure to make energy independence a reality for them. Our mix is likely to lean more heavily towards economic opportunism, but we can do it.

Andrew - It is hard for me to be econically realistic and go back on a lot of the early anti-nuclear fervor of my earlier years, but nuclear is clearly going to have to be a big part of the long term plan. It just isn't going to do squat in the short term. Even fierce nuclear proponents don't think we could have any serious power generation from nuclear in less than ten to fifteen years, whereas we could have serious, albeit not as much, power generation from wind and solar over the next ten years, with a fair amount in two years if we made the effort. Yes, we need to build nuclear plants, and yes, many of the early issues about waste disposal have been answered, but the combination of entrenched anti-nuclear sentiment in the U.S., persistent issues with long term safe storage of waste, the long term time/investment building plants, and the not-in-my-backyard sentiments all mean that we need different shorter term solutions, both for the sake of energy independence and for the sake of global warming. Wind and solar may not be perfect, but they are achievable in the shorter term and are far more environmentally friendly than coal, even with recent cleaner tenchniques. Coal is the real alternative that is going to be touted, because it doesn't require the long lead time nuclear does, and wind/solar are better alternatives to increased dependence on coal.

701.7. Andrew Pollack
(07/10/2008 07:00 AM)

Ben - Even many if not nearly all of the big environmental lobby groups -- hell, even Patrick Moore, a founder of Greenpeace is now pro-nuke.

The reality is that modern designs fail "closed" rather than open, meaning meltdown and toxic disaster are nearly impossible. The likelihood of major contamination from a modern nuke plant is radically smaller than that of a coal or oil fired plant.

The waste issue is one of concentration. With coal or oil (or to some extent with LNG) most of your toxic waste is daily distributed to the wind in small amounts. With a nuke plant it is nearly all contained on site and thus has to be disposed of. That doesn't mean it produces a bigger waste problem. If anything, it produces a more managed one. There are very reliable methods to encase it in leaded glass or blocks of salts or other such things which make it very safe to handle, very hard to steal, and stable for thousands of years.

Yes, it will take 10-15 years from when we start to when we're pulling serious power. That's why we need to get busy now.

701.8. Ben Langhinrichs
(07/10/2008 07:22 AM)

Andrew - I agree with you, but the point of the post is mostly about the near term. I do think we need to start working on the nuclear power front, but it is not an either-or. The investment cost of nuclear virtually ensures that government needs to be involved, while wind and solar and geothermal are all possible with private funds, at least on some scale.

701.9. Charles Robinson
(07/10/2008 07:43 AM)

My brother-in-law works for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. I was talking to him over the July 4th holiday and he said there are 11 nuclear plants being actively built, and by 2010 there will be 29 under construction. Nuclear is coming whether the myopic treehuggers like it or not. I'm a very strong environmentalist, but there comes a time when you have to be practical.

701.10. Ben Langhinrichs
(07/10/2008 08:10 AM)

Charles - How many of the 29 will be completed and producing power by 2010? How about by 2020? Nuclear power is coming, but the issue is not the treehuggers now as much as the treehuggers 25 years ago. I don't mean this to be argumentative, and I appreciate the information, which is encouraging, but I still think we have some pretty serious issues to address in the near term.