10. T. Boone Pickens

Financier

T. Boone Pickens     Photo: Joe Ciardiello

Ruined Wind power

It’s hard to believe, but in 2008 this 83-year-old hedge-fund chairman, former oilman, and natural-gas baron was the poster child of alternative energy. That year, the staunch conservative paid $80 million to run commercials for his Pickens Plan, a solution for getting the United States off foreign oil that included a $1 trillion stake in wind power. He even personally invested in what was to be the country’s largest wind farm, in the Texas Panhandle. It was a Kumbaya moment, with ­enviros and conservatives agreeing that alternatives were a noble goal. It didn’t last. In January 2010, with the ­recession hammering renewables, Pickens canceled his Texas wind farm and dropped most of the wind power from his plan. Now the Warren ­Buffett of energy has gone all-in on natural gas, becoming one of the biggest defenders of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” a controversial extraction technique that involves cracking open bedrock to release gas. People are still listening. President Obama singled out Pickens and made natural gas a cornerstone of his energy plan. And Pickens says he has rallied 300 congressional representatives to a piece of legislation that would grant incentives to natural-gas producers, which could pass by the end of the year.

By the Numbers 1.6 ­million: people who signed on to the ­Pickens Plan online;
2.6 quadrillion: cubic feet of natural gas in the U.S.;
8,503: megawatts of wind energy ­installed in the U.S. in 2008;
5,317: megawatts installed in 2010

Second Opinion “When Pickens jumped into the wind industry, it looked like a very different investment opportunity,” says Matt Kaplan, associate director of wind energy at IHS Emerging Energy Research. “He made a big splash by being a prominent former oilman investing in four gigawatts of alternative energy. His impact has been mixed. He’s not ­dissuading people from ­investing in wind—there are certainly still people making money—but with gas prices so low, he’s going where there are higher returns.”

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