Thursday, June 11, 2009

T. Boone Talking Again About Natural Gas

By Michael Newsom / The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009 - Added 4h ago

BILOXI -- The creator and namesake of the "Pickens Plan" for more renewable energy and less foreign oil said Tuesday he expects significant energy legislation by year’s end. He also called for pressure on Washington to produce solutions.

T. Boone Pickens -- well-known for the $58 million advertising campaign for his energy plan -- addressed the Southern Growth Policies Board, which Gov. Haley Barbour chairs, on the last day of the group’s conference here. The summit was sponsored by Chevron and Southern Company, which owns Mississippi Power Company, among others.

Pickens, founder and chairman of BP Capital Management and author of the New York Times [NYT] Bestseller "The First Billion is the Hardest," said his ideas are attainable and there are examples of successes, particularly with natural gas, wind and solar technology. He lamented the U.S. has gone the last 40 years without developing an energy plan, but said it’s imperative to develop one now.

He said for years politicians agreed with him on foreign oil, but many kept getting elected and nothing ever happened.

"Now we are 68 percent imports, and over half of that comes from Venezuela, the Middle East and Africa, which are all unstable areas," Pickens said. "The biggest fear I have is the security issue. As long as we import the oil from where it is coming from, our security is in jeopardy."

According to Pickens, the United States presently uses about 25 percent of the world’s oil, but only represents 4 percent of the global population. He said there’s hope for alternatives to gasoline and diesel fuel, particularly natural gas, which is abundant in the United States.

Currently only one natural gas-powered car model, a Honda Civic, which he owns, is for sale in the United States, he said. But General Motors makes nearly 20 different natural gas vehicles, none of which are sold in the United States.

The substance is also powerful enough to propel an 18-wheeler, but there is about a $65,000 difference in the price of a natural gas truck and a diesel model. He favors incentives to encourage natural gas.

Other countries, particularly Iran, are moving toward natural gas engines. About 10 million vehicles run on natural gas worldwide, but only about 142,000 of them are in the United States, Pickens said. Los Angeles, Denver and Seattle operate buses on natural gas, and San Francisco is studying it, Pickens said. Barbour also noted some buses in Jackson currently run on it.

"It’s cleaner and it’s cheaper," Pickens said.

Pickens is also noted for being in the wind energy business. He said the U.S. is the world’s number one wind producer, having overtaken Germany. Wind and solar technology can work well, Pickens said, although some critics say it isn’t always sunny or windy. Pickens said wind sometimes works better at night and solar works better in daylight.

He said that he talked with then Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain and then Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama about energy before the November elections last year. If both, who supported energy independence, were given an energy quiz then, they’d fail, he said.

"They did not know energy," Pickens said. "Look at their backgrounds. They never worked in energy."

McCain wanted more battery-powered cars, but didn’t realize there was no battery capable of moving an 18-wheeler. Obama talked with Pickens about a goal of having 1 million hybrid U.S. cars in 10 years, but finally agreed with Pickens that was too low a goal, given there are about 250 million cars in the United States now, Pickens said.

Congress is currently talking about two major energy-related bills. One, the Waxman-Markey bill, is designed to promote clean energy and reduce greenhouse gases, and another, known as the NAT GAS Act of 2009, promotes natural gas technologies. Pickens believes there is a "50-50" percent chance an energy bill will pass this year, possibly near the August recess. The climate change legislation, which many conference panelists expressed concern over how it would affect energy costs, might not make the final version, he believes.

He encouraged the audience, which included several state governors and many from the business and nonprofit sectors, to get involved in the fight.

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