TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens is making it his mission to boost the use of wind and natural gas for U.S. energy needs and reduce the nation's reliance on foreign oil.
His message is simple: America is addicted to foreign oil and that must change. He tells all who will listen that imported 24 percent of its oil in 1970 and now imports 70 percent of its oil at an annual cost of $700 billion.
He's spending $58 million to promote his “Pickens Plan” with such things as television ads and a series of town hall meetings across the Great Plains, starting Wednesday in Topeka.
Kansas is in a corridor from the Texas panhandle to North Dakota that Pickens says could produce 20 percent of the nation's electricity by wind. The cost to achieve it is $1 trillion to build the turbines plus $200 billion for transmission lines.
His plan calls for erecting wind turbines in the Midwest to generate electricity, replacing the 22 percent of U.S. power produced from natural gas. The freed-up natural gas then could be used to power vehicles now reliant on gasoline and diesel.
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a longtime advocate of alternatives energy sources, was scheduled to introduce Pickens at the inaugural town hall meeting.
In January, she formed a group to promote wind power in a state where 73 percent of the electricity generated comes from coal-fired plants.
Sebelius wants wind power to account for 10 percent of the state's 10,000 megawatts of generating capacity in 2010 and 20 percent by 2020. The Kansas Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities, says the 10 percent goal will be met by year's end, with eight wind farms generating 1,013.4 megawatts.
The governor also is locked in a legal and political dispute with Sunflower Electric Power Corp. over plans for two coal-fired power plants in Finney County. In October, her administration denied an air-quality permit to Sunflower, based on the plants' potential carbon dioxide emissions. Four legal challenges are pending.
Pickens, an Oklahoma native, has leased hundreds of thousands of acres for a giant wind farm in west Texas, where he plans to erect 2,700 turbines and produce energy. The plan still needs final approval from utility officials.
In Washington last week, Pickens told a Senate committee that the government should begin building transmission lines for wind-generated power or provide the right of way on private land and extend tax credits so the private sector can build the lines.
Pickens' plan has its critics, including Eric Rosenbloom, an East Hardwick, Vt., science editor who runs the Web site National Wind Watch.
He said with wind power, additional power plants are needed to offset the times when the wind isn't as strong. He said the best type of plant to balance wind is natural gas.
“It would require increasing natural gas on the grid rather than freeing it up,” he said. “It's not going to free up natural gas for transportation. There is no way.”