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Open Forum: Watch your wallet and checkbook

In July of 2008, oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens announced a grand energy plan which would cover the U.S. Midwest with wind turbines, including $1.5 billon worth ordered from General Electric. The American Wind Energy Association named Pickens “2009 Industry Person of the Year,” and the Sierra Club called him a man “out to save America.” The energy from Pickens’ wind turbines was intended to free up natural gas, which then would be used to power millions of American trucks, thus ending our dependence on OPEC for gasoline and diesel. 

Today that plan is completely cancelled along with the balance of his GE turbine order. The committed part of the GE turbine order has been off loaded to projects in Goodhue County, Minnesota and Canada. In an interview with Roll Call, Pickens stated that his new program would be using only natural gas and not wind. “You can’t do wind because natural gas is too cheap,” he said. “You have no way to force wind in unless it makes economic sense.”

The economic issue with wind is also illustrated by the $2 billion dollar Massachusetts Cape Wind project, one of the largest proposed wind farms in the world. It will place 130 giant wind turbines in the sea off the coast of Cape Cod.  U.S. taxpayers will give the developer about $700 million up front, guarantee the loan balance, and the project will charge two to three times market rates for power. 

There is a role for wind and solar power in our energy future, but there are reasons that combined they provided just 1 percent of total U.S. energy in 2010.  So when the Minnesota Legislature continues proposing large scale renewable mandates, keep a tight grip on your wallet and checkbook.

Rolf Westgard