Known to many as the ‘oracle of oil’ because of his uncanny ability to predict the direction of fuel prices, T Boone Pickens has a plan for the US. Having made billions from his investments and involvement in Dallas-based Mesa Petroleum, this Texas oil man is now on the warpath to build a home-grown sustainable energy industry in the US.

“We’ve never had an energy plan for the US,” says Mr Pickens. In his mind, it is imperative. If oil prices were maintained at $150 a barrel, the US would send $700bn out of the country in 2008 alone.

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Energy independence

Realising the critical need to become more energy independent, US politicians are calling for offshore drilling off the US east and west coasts. Many also claim that now is the time to open Alaska to more drilling.

“I don’t know 100 people in the past year who have said Alaska will solve our problem,” says Mr Pickens. He proclaims there is simply not that much oil, plus it is getting more expensive to produce and harder to find.

“There isn’t enough to keep up with demand,” he says. “The truth is cheap and easy oil is gone.”

Mr Pickens sees more obvious solutions: use wind power to replace natural gas-generated electricity, which, in turn, would free up more natural gas for transportation and reduce the reliance on oil – especially imported oil.

“There’s only one resource we have in America in large quantities that can be used to actually reduce foreign oil; that’s natural gas,” he says. “It is cheaper and it is cleaner.”

To make his point, this oil man turned wind power wildcatter is investing billions to build the world’s largest wind farm in Texas.

Early this year Mr Pickens made his first down-payment on 500 wind turbines. His goal is to build a 4000-megawatt wind farm by the end of 2015 that will tie to Electric Reliability Council of Texas transmission lines.

Texas, with its large stretches of windswept rural plains, is ideal for this type of investment. Plus, when the state produced its first Renewable Portfolio Standard as part of its electricity industry restructuring legislation in 1999, it mandated the construction of certain amounts of renewable energy and prompted the renewable energy industry to rapidly accelerate its production on Texas sites. Consequently, wind power development in Texas has more than quadrupled.

Mr Pickens’ project alone is expected to become the biggest of its kind in the world, producing enough power for the equivalent of 1.3 million homes. But he insists he is not in it for the money. “At 80 years old, I have all the money I want,” he says.

Wider benefits

One of the many benefits of the Pickens Plan will be economic revitalisation for many rural parts of the US.

Sweetwater, Texas, where 25% of the workforce is now employed in wind-related businesses, is a good example. Wind energy means good jobs in construction and maintenance and a new source of income for landowners.

“Shell Oil Company is constructing a wind farm 100 miles from mine at Pampa, Texas,” adds Mr Pickens. “You go through that corridor all the way to Canada and you can revitalise rural America.”

The US Department of Energy has said that 20% of the nation’s electricity could be produced by wind turbines situated along a relatively narrow ‘wind corridor’ that stretches from Texas to North Dakota. If realised, the US could become, as the oil and gas entrepreneur says, the “Saudi Arabia of wind power”.

CURRICULUM VITAE

T BOONE PICKENS

2006T Boone Pickens Foundation

Founder

1956Mesa Petroleum

Founder

1951Phillips Petroleum Company, Bartlesville, Oklahoma

Founder