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.”