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Advertise on the Tentacle

August 11, 2008

T. Boone & Slim Pickens

Steven R. Berryman

What does a famous Texas oil baron do to ensure some personal legacy at age 80? He becomes an alternative energy activist, and starts a web site with a link to his own MySpace page, of course!


T. Boone Pickens has poured himself into this massive publicity stunt. His alternative solutions involve wind power generated by windmills.


How well thought out is this endeavor?

How ironic that his opening pages include the warning admonition about the energy crises, “…but this is one emergency we can’t drill our way out of.”


Why not? Didn’t we drill our way into the mess?


More importantly, are we out of oil for energy, or are we out of the $2 gasoline era from cheaply obtained oil and gas? Near the surface, near refineries.


Widely reported news last week was that a Newt Gingrich researcher – reportedly just a young college guy googling, tasked to look into the immediate impact of drilling on prices – found learned papers attesting to the fact that market prices for oil would go down very quickly just with the announcement of more drilling.


So, forget the technical details and political obstacles to actually permitting a start. We are only considering four states for drilling? And no closer than 50 miles offshore, even in the Gulf? And not in ANWR (The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge).


Yes, we are just as serious about solving this national nightmare as we are about the war on drugs and as we are on the war on terrorism. Perhaps we need to assign a czar?


Alternative energy, Mr. Pickens contends, is about 3% of our total use now, and his goal is to solve $700 billion worth of imports by doubling that.


My friend T-Bone – the nick name I assume his MySpace friends are permitted to use, and I am one – assumes that we have not been working hard on those oil-alternatives such as wind power.


Boloney! Research grants for new energy schemes are manifest and have been funded at the test-bed level for years now; demonstration projects and so on, but without the deserved urgencies to actually bring to market.


Wind power is our way out, so the plan goes. But what of the esthetics? Not in my back yard are you putting a wind farm made of 100 foot tall wind-mill-looking machines. I don’t believe there are currently any near the Pickens ranch house.


And if we start with wind farms on a wholesale scale, you know that the government will eventually just start paying the wind-farmers not to produce wind-electricity!


And the Greenies (environmentalists) will eventually put their two cents into the wind-electric-production debate, you know, as spoilers; so some discussion is in order, but first some reminders of basic science are important to this discussion:


As you know, wind is not a renewable resource, as is water in a hydroelectric damn, for example. During storms, the trees shake back and forth, creating wind that eventually travels over the earth. The wind causes friction, which in turn causes the world to rotate around its axis, thus creating gravity.


This is fundamental, of course; but picture a future with many, many windmills, NIMBYS permitting, lined up in sequence over many square miles of surface to catch the wind, thus turning the props to generate electricity that is then sold over an electric power grid system.


It doesn’t take any junk science – or junk economics for that matter – at all to figure out that enough windmills to cover our oil balance of trade problem would start to absorb too much wind at some point. The wind-point-of-no return.


We would all have to start buying wind-friction credits, perhaps from Al Gore.


Without wind, which is essentially air, how would we even be able to inflate our tires to the proper pressures, thus assuring the enormous fuel savings? A very perplexing problem in complexity indeed.


The Eco-terrorist types will see this as a political opportunity for certain. “Save the Wind” will form, and protests will hit us everywhere, especially in Chicago, for obvious reasons.


The phenomenon of wind-loss causing a “Global Slowing” with the consequential loss of gravity will be their emotional rallying call, thus generating millions of dollars in contributions, resulting in push-back against wind power as an alternative for us.


This benefits big oil, of course, as prices stay high…


So, it’s the unintended consequences that become the devil-in-the-details of T Boone’s plan. And that even assumes that the fundamental technology makes sense. Currently, even our own BP Solar is experimenting with the wind alternative. Forecasts are that even with an improved technology, it would take over 10 years for a mechanical wind-generating tower to pay for itself and break even.


That said, there are bugs needing fixes, such as an automatic steering system to maintain prop-to-wind alignment, and blade trim to the existing wind direction, for example.


And how can America compete with our overseas competition such as China, Germany, and Japan, where their governments currently subsidize alternative power, not only making it cost-effective, but also taking supply away form our homeland market?


And how serious is our government, run by other oil guys like the president and vice president? How far out of their way on a road trip to Camp David would BP Solar be for a visit by them. A little PR would be a signal that they endorse alternatives like BP’s solar panels; the absence thereof is another signal indeed.


Who remembers the State of the Union message by President George W. Bush about “another Manhattan Project” style effort to improve engine efficiency to alleviate our money woes from oil prices?


All of this said, our forecast for wind generated power as savior is currently cloudy. Prepare for higher prices.


“Pickens” for energy remain slim indeed.


(Editors Note: David Brown, a senior fellow at the Blue Skye Institute, assisted Mr. Berryman is the compilation and writing of this column.)


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