Picking through the Pickens Plan


In a recently posted Youtube video, energy analyst Donn Dears identifies what appears to be a major flaw in the Pickens Plan.

Pickens proposes to generate 20 percent of U.S. electricity from wind turbines, essentially replacing natural gas-fired electricity with wind-generated electricity. Pickens claims we could then use the natural gas now consumed by the electric power sector to fuel cars, trucks, and buses instead, dramatically reducing America’s dependence on imported petroleum.

Dears estimates it would take 200,000 new 1.5 MW wind turbines to supply 20 percent of current U.S. electricity. But, says Dears, even more wind turbines than that–an estimated 268,205 — would be needed just to meet the increase in U.S. electricity demand (1,046 billion kWh) that the Energy Information Administration forecasts between 2006 and 2030.

So even if we installed 268,205 wind turbines (unlikely, since the most ever installed in one year in the United States was 3,188), existing natural gas plants would still need to produce all the power they currently do. This means no natural gas would be freed up to replace petroleum as a motor fuel for automobiles.

If Dears is correct, then the Pickens Plan is based on a gigantic oversight. If, as EIA forecasts, U.S. electric demand will increase almost 29 percent by 2030, then generating the equivalent of 20 percent of current U.S. electric power from wind would yield no surplus natural gas over the next two decades. We would end up with lots of wind farms but no significant reduction in petroleum dependence.


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