The credit crunch and sagging stock market are taking a toll on wind energy and natural gas evangelist T. Boone Pickens, whose plummeting fortunes have prompted him to consider downsizing a massive wind project in Texas.
This hasn't been a good week for Pickens. The oil tycoon catapulted to the national energy debate when he launched a media campaign and an energy plan in July that he said would wean the United States from its reliance on foreign oil (see T. Boone Pickens Has a Plan).
During an interview on "60 Minutes" last Sunday, Pickens said that he and his hedge fund, BP Capital, were down $2 billion as a result of the slumping oil and natural-gas prices. The Wall Street Journal followed up, reporting that about half of the investors in BP Capital were taking their money out of the fund, which has posted 60 percent in losses so far this year.
Earth2tech also has been chronicling Pickens' woes, with a Wednesday post that included a quote from Pickens' office stating "the capital market may lead us to scale back a bit, but we are still going forward with our wind business."
Pickens made his fortune mostly in oil, but found a new calling in extolling the virtues of renewable energy, from solar to nuclear – although his master plan is mostly focused on using wind power for electricity and natural gas for transportation. He has lined up support from the Sierra Club, spoken at energy conferences and events, and granted numerous media interviews in an effort to influence national energy policies (see Summit Aims for Energy Policy Compromises).
The effort isn't singularly altruistic, of course. Pickens co-founded Clean Energy Fuels (NDSQ: CLNE), a natural gas distributor in Seal Beach, Calif., that also has been actively investing in natural gas-powered transportation (see Clean Energy Fuels Buys Landfill Gas Plant).
In April, he announced plans to develop a 4-gigawatt wind farm in Texas. By July, Pickens said he spent $2 billion on the project so far and planned to invest $10 billion more, partly to build transmission lines. He expected the wind farm to begin producing electricity in 2011.
That plan could be delayed now.
Pickens sees wind energy and natural gas as complementary sources of energy. Pickens reasons that an increase in wind energy would free up the need to use natural gas to run power plants. The natural gas can then be turned into fuel for cars, replacing the more expensive gasoline.
Under Pickens' energy plan, a combination of using natural gas for transportation and building enough wind farms to feed 20 percent of the country's electricity needs could reduce the United States' reliance on foreign oil by one third in 10 years.
Pickens is hardly alone in feeling the pain of the withering financial markets, of course. FPL Group (NYSE: FPL) said this week it would reduce plans for more wind energy projects as part of a larger cut in equipment and project spending for 2009, leading a number of wind companies to wonder whether it was the beginning of a series of project scalebacks (see FPL Cuts Wind Power Plans).
Earlier this month, Spanish wind turbine maker, Gamesa, said it is closing some of its factories temporarily until its customers can confirm their purchase plans (see Wind Turbine Shortage Over?).
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