Billionaire Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens pitched his alternative energy plan on a day when the wind was gusting up to 40 mph and oil prices soared by more than $5 a barrel. He found a favorable audience.
“Nobody got up in that auditorium and left the room,” Pickens said after Thursday’s town hall meeting. “Everybody sat there because they were afraid they were going to miss something.”
The so-called “Pickens Plan” aims to cut the country’s dependence on foreign oil by putting up wind turbines in North Dakota and other states to replace power produced from natural gas. That would leave more natural gas to power vehicles that now use gasoline and diesel.
Pickens told residents of oil-rich North Dakota that he has nothing against oil, as long as it’s in the United States.
“Don’t leave the meeting saying, ‘He’s for this and he’s for that,'” Pickens told the audience. “I’m only against one thing, and that’s foreign oil.”
Some critics of the plan have suggested Pickens is in it for money, citing his major investment in a Texas wind farm and majority ownership in a company that supplies fuel for natural gas vehicles.
“I’m 80 years old and I’m worth $3 billion,” Pickens said in an interview. “I have no agenda.”
Pickens used a chalkboard to draw pie charts and other notes while giving a 30-minute speech about his plan. He fielded questions from a handful of people, with more waiting to speak when the program ended.
Audience member Steve Winter said afterward that the Pickens plan should serve as a wake-up call to elected officials.
“We have to do something to right the ship,” said Winter, of Valley City. “It’s time for our politicians to stop yapping and step up and do something about it.”
Several observers asked about ways to transmit power from the Midwest to the other areas. Pickens said he believes private financing can pay for energy transmission lines, but it’s up to Congress to “open up the lanes.”
Officials have said a lack of transmission lines is a major problem in developing alternate energy sources such as wind. Pickens said Congress has kept certain areas off limits because many people don’t want unsightly power lines in their back yards.
Congress should advocate an emergency plan for moving power, such as the one President Eisenhower used to build the interstate highway system, he said.
“We can beat this problem, but we have to move quickly,” Pickens said.
Jeremy Swanson, of Fargo, said he is involved in a community wind project and asked Pickens for suggestions about helping smaller producers transmit power. Pickens said it was difficult for him to address local issues.
“I didn’t really get the answer I was hoping for,” Swanson said.
Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., helped introduce Pickens by talking about a North Dakota farmer, Denver Rosberg, who regularly visited the congressman’s Bismarck office in the early 1990s to talk about wind energy. Rosberg died in 2005 at age 84.
“He was largely laughed off by everybody,” Pomeroy said.
“I’ve been laughed off. I know how he feels,” Pickens replied.
“We’re not laughing now,” Pomeroy said.