By Ken Sobel
It’s impossible to turn on the TV or radio lately without being barraged
by T. Boone Pickens presenting his ambitious plan to save the world from global
warming and wean us off foreign oil. But the decision we need to make in the
days and weeks to come is between creating the energy we need locally—or
leaving control of solar and wind power production in the hands of big utility
companies that aim to sell us back our energy after we build the transmission
lines with our tax money.
I'm concerned that "Pickens' Way Out" has
less to do with Pickens' altruism than Pickens' profts.
All Americans should
applaud the effort to immediately move to clean and renewable energy like wind,
solar and geothermal. But, I've learned that -after shaking the hand of a Texas
Oil Man - one should always count his fingers.
This time is no exception.
Wind and Solar power are truly the solution to our
energy and climate change crisis. But, simply building a huge array of windmills
in the isolated areas in the middle of our country does nothing to distribute
that energy to where it is needed.
The "eight cents per kilowatt hour" cost
for wind does not include the billions to build the transmission infrastructure
to deliver the energy to the places where it is needed. Nor does it account
for the huge price to pay for the environmental damage such infrastructure
will likely entail.
The solution is "direct distribution". For example,
the process of installing solar panels on a roof connected to the grid which
provides clean and renewable energy during the peak hours when that energy
is both scarce and expensive. It requires no transmission infrastructure -
hence the word "direct" -
and the energy created is used in the exact same location where it is needed.
In fact, we have enough available solar-ready roof space in America to take
care of 85% of our electrical energy demand.
But, Pickens' essentially ignores "direct
distribution" of solar
energy because - unlike oil, natural gas and huge infrastructure costs - he
can't make a profit, or create a monopoly on the source of that energy, the
And solar generated electricity can run a nationwide fleet of electric and
hybrid electric cars - technology that is presently available. A hybrid owner
plugs the car in an outlet in the garage at night while sleeping and wake up
to a fully charged vehicle the next morning.
Lastly, Pickens' contention that
natural gas powered vehicles is a way out of our energy dependence, or is "renewable",
is false and misleading. While it is true that America has more potential energy
in natural gas than we do in oil, the reality is that we have only 3% of the
world's known reserves. The vast majority is located and controlled by some
of our "best friends" in
the world, like Iran, Russia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.
will it take before we are on bended knee begging for more natural gas from
our friends, or starting a war to take it from them?
Pickens' ad doesn't talk
about how much of a profit he will make if we make this fool's choice to natural
gas. Nor does he broadcast the fact that he wants the government (or at least
someone other than himself) to pay $25 billion to retrofit gas stations so
they can dispense the natural gas (instead of the minimal cost in making an
electric outlet available to re-charge an electric or hybrid car).
As it is,
Pickens is said to be contributing over $3 million to pay for a California
proposition that will increase incentives for vehicles powered by natural gas.
If passed, it will increase the demand for natural gas - a substantial portion
which will have to be purchased from.... you guessed it, the "natural
gas man", Pickens.
While this will make him a tidy profit it will again
condemn our country to another form of energy that is neither renewable nor
makes our country more secure in the long run.
By the way, where is the solar
part of the plan that is mentioned in his ad campaign?
I don't begrudge Pickens' desire to make a profit, or work the government
for subsidies. God knows that oilmen are the best of the best when it comes
to profits and subsidies.
But, I wonder if his ad campaign has any philanthropic
motive - as it seems to suggest - or if it’s merely a Trojan horse.
Sobel is an attorney and president of United Sustainable Energy (USE), a San
Diego County-based company specializing in solar and other clean, energy-saving
The views expressed in this editorial reflect the author’s
opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of East County Magazine or
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