If you are staying up nights worrying about whatever could be on my mind and if my obsession du jour could possibly be the final straw that tanks the market and leaves us all stranded in our respective victory gardens, let me put your mind at ease. I’m all about the Pickens, as in T. Boone.
The former corporate raider and well-padded energy meister has enjoyed a surprisingly blood-free romp through the news market briar patch with his greased-up media campaign designed to capture the national furor over gas prices (since deflated somewhat) and funnel it into his tank of wind promises.
Does nobody in the information-reconstituting world remember his earlier machinations designed to tap into the nation’s fastest-retreating large aquifer and pipe the water into Dallas and/or San Antonio? Did anyone but a couple bloggers and Popular Mechanics stop to wonder if those needed wind transmission lines just might be happily laying a path for the even-more-lucrative water pipeline?
From Popular Mechanics:
Legendary Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens recently detailed his plan to wean America off foreign oil by blanketing the Great Plains with wind turbines. But Pickens also has a lesser-known plan that is centered on another commodity, one every bit as vital to America’s future as energy—water. If it all works out, his water plan could remake Pickens as a whole new kind of baron.
Pickens is in the planning stages of a $1.5 billion initiative to pump billions of gallons of water from an ancient aquifer beneath the Texas Panhandle and build pipelines to ship them to thirsty cities such as Dallas. So far, no city has taken up his water company, Mesa Water, on the offer. But company officials and experts agree that a continuation of the drought impacting large portions of the United States could turn Pickens into something of a water baron. His yet-to-be-built pipeline would follow the same 250-mile corridor as electric lines carrying power from his wind farms. Pickens prompted the creation of a public water supply district, run by his employees, that can claim private land for the pipeline route through eminent domain. (Follow the pipeline’s path here.)
Want to see if your ranchita is in the way of water-privatization progress? Doh! The trickster deleted the plans (aka, evidence?)!
We get a sad-sad “missing page” alert.
Sometime since the PopMech article, the Roberts County FWSD N01 (Pickens and a couple quail-huntin’ buddies, I’m told) deleted the webpage.
Step back on the url to the “district” home and we find the project has been “suspended for now,” though the district (thank your stars!) is continuing efforts to acquire and develop water rights.”
So, what does that mean? Wind first — then the water? Drought and beef prices got you down? Look around! Pickens is still in town.
Yeah, yeah. I don’t much like missing pages, so I rolled up my sleeves (with some encouragements) and hunted down a little url code trick. Now that’s more like it.
The missing piece:
Haven’t had the same success with that PDF behind the “project route map,” but I managed to kill another perfectly good hour fussing on my laptop while satisfying my current fixation for now.
When I first started seeing the “Pickens’ Plan” adverts, I just assumed everyone knew as much as I did, which is about whatever the face on the screen was telling me. Then I got a call from a long-lost bud in the UAE. “Whose this Pickens guy?” he asked.
The public plan is all about “energy independence.” That is, it’s a wild switcheroo whereby our natural gas power plants (too many mothballed anyway because of wild pricing swings) are replaced with roiling wind farms slicing down the center of the country. The natural gas would then be freed up, theoretically, to power the transportation sector.
There are, as you might have guessed, some hitches.
Challenges, according to Vaclav Smil, include:
Number of turbines needed.
In 2007, U.S. utilities installed about 3,200 turbines with a total generating capacity of 5.24 gigawatts of electricity: If these turbines were to generate electricity 25 percent of the time — a typical load factor — they would produce enough electricity for about one million households for a year. (The U.S. has more than 110 million households.) But even if today’s natural gas-fired power plant capacity were replaced at an unrealistic 1:1 ratio by wind turbines, Pickens is talking about installing 40 gigawatts of wind power a year — roughly 8 times the 2007 pace.
Cost of transmission line.
Without knowing the specifics, which Pickens’ plan do not address, this may or may not be enough to link nearly 400 gigawatts of newly installed wind-generating capacity in the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas with high urban concentrations on the coasts. In any case, the construction pace would be a huge challenge. During the 1990s, U.S. utilities built about 9,700 miles of new HV lines and plans for this decade amount to less than 8,000 miles — one-fifth to one-sixth of the 40,000 to 50,000 miles required under the Pickens plan.
And the auto conversions.
While they are efficient, clean, and entirely desirable (I had advocated their use as far back as the first oil “crisis” of 1973), scaling of their ownership to tens of millions units, from fewer than 200,000 such cars today, would be extremely difficult to do in a single decade — and only a few of America’s nearly 120,000 service stations now offer natural gas …
The Texas oilman is right: This is a crisis of America’s own making. Federal mileage standards doubled America’s passenger car fuel efficiency between 1976 and 1986, to 27.5 mpg. But with the ensuing decades of inexpensive oil, no new standards were set. A mere continuation of the 1976-1986 rate of improvement would have meant that American cars today would average close to 50 mpg, eliminating the need for nearly 70 percent of the crude oil we import. Moreover, a massive adoption of SUVs pushed the passenger vehicle fleet performance to just 22 mpg by 2006. And if America hopes to make up for its gasoline profligacy with more drilling, that will not prove to be effective solution: More oil will be discovered in America’s offshore waters, but not nearly enough to make the country self-sufficient, even after two to three decades of such activity.
But don’t let me stop you. Watch the PP video. But when the water router gets a’groanin, remember, Popular Mechanics tried to warn you.
[LATE ADDITION, 10/27: Read a longer analysis of Picken’s Plan (as well as plans from Obama, McCain, and Google Labs) in my recent companion article Drilling Rhetoric. This originally ran with a longer energy story, Occult energy futures: Presidential candidates wheel, Texas deals, the Current calls the hand.]