If you've watched TV recently, you've almost certainly heard from T. Boone Pickens. He's the Republican oil billionaire who recently saw the light on the need for alternative energy and has sponsored a flood of windmill-porn TV ads to make sure the rest of America gets the message. Now he's taking his pitch straight to the who most need to hear it -- the Republican politicians who have blocked the extension of the renewable energy tax credit, which are set to expire this December.
Pickens spoke today at a get-together for South Carolina delegates, explaining his support for renewable energy in terms of energy independence, not environmental benefits. When it comes to energy, "I'm for anything American," he says. He's worried not only about the security risk inherent in getting oil from overseas, but about the massive amount of wealth leaving the country as a result of oil imports. America spends almost $700 billion per year to buy oil from overseas.
Pickens thinks that the offshore drilling debate is a distraction, pointing out that oil is traded on a global market and that the relatively small amount of oil expected to be economically recoverable from the continental shelf won't make a noticeable difference in global supply. But that doesn't mean that he's opposed to drilling for all hydrocarbons. He thinks that natural gas -- which the U.S. does in fact have a lot of, and which is difficult to export -- should serve as a "bridge fuel" that powers the American auto fleet until battery technologies for electric cars improve. He points out that cars powered by liquefied natural gas are already in commercial production.
But Pickens gets most passionate when talking about wind. The American West and Midwest have the potential to be "the Saudi Arabia of wind," he says. A wind-energy boom could create well-paying jobs that would revitalize huge swaths of rural America. But in order to get there, he says, we need to extend the renewable energy tax credit and use the federal government's power to secure the rights-of-way necessary for constructing transmission lines to take power from the middle of the country to its population centers.
Now, High Country News has had some cautionary things to say about renewable-energy transmission lines. And natural gas drilling, depending on where and how it's done, can be either relatively benign or an unmitigated environmental disaster. Still, it's good to hear a Republican telling other Republicans that the oil-and-coal energy status quo just isn't going to work.