Sunday, July 20, 2008

More Pick'in on Pickens

The New York Times demonstrates why newspapers ought to be a viable business still. The Kate Galbraith article contains several comment-worthy items while refraining from doing so itself; the lady clearly knows the difference between "news" and "commentary", so well done to her.

Let's cross our i's and dot a few T's, shall we? The opening paragraph is illuminating:

Texas regulators have approved a $4.93 billion wind-power transmission project, providing a major lift to the development of wind energy in the state. (my bold)

First, note the dollar amount. T. Boone Pickens proposes spending $10 million to install more electrical power generating wind mills in this same general region of the state. Good for him - quite literally. As I highlighted above, the problem area of greatest concern lies with how that energy is transmitted from the mill to the consumer. T. Boone would do better by all concerned if he spent his money buying up the needed right-of-way for the lacking power transmission lines instead of building yet more windmills. He could actually fulfill his white knight fantasy doing the former, instead of manipulating a profit from an already overloaded distribution system.

Further down the page we come to this:

Texas is already the largest producer of wind power, with 5,300 installed megawatts — more than double the installed capacity of California, the next closest state. And Texas is fast expanding its capacity.

“This project will almost put Texas ahead of Germany in installed wind,” said Greg Wortham, executive director of the West Texas Wind Energy Consortium.

Transmission companies will pay the upfront costs of the project. They will recoup the money from power users, at a rate of about $4 a month for residential customers.

Details of the plan will be completed by Aug. 15, according to Damon Withrow, director of government relations at the Public Utility Commission, which voted 2 to 1 to go ahead with the transmission plan. The lines will not be fully constructed until 2013.

So, despite his anointed status as savior and self-proclaimed peak oil kook, Pickens also seeks to inject the federal government into a purely Texas state issue, as Ms. Galbraith also made clear elsewhere in her article:

But other states may find the Texas model difficult to emulate. The state is unique in having its own electricity grid. All other states fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, adding an extra layer of bureaucracy to any transmission proposals.

Say what you like about my fellow Texicans (not to mention those of us who more recently moved here), but we generally tend to not think well of those who seek to involve "outsiders" into state business. Even when that results in somebody else's money being spent here. We'll take the money, you understand, but resent you all the same. We are nothing if not consistently inconsistent.

Before this takes on the overtones of a fisking, let me close with this quote from the NYT article that got me started:

The exact route of the transmission lines has yet to be determined because the state has not yet acquired right-of-way, according to Mr. Withrow of the utility commission.

The project will almost certainly face concerns from landowners reluctant to have wires cutting across their property. “I would anticipate that some of these companies will have to use eminent domain,” he said, speaking of the companies that will be building the transmission lines.

It is my understanding of the intent behind the eminent domain clause that issues of this nature - public use of private property - were the precise conflicts it was created to resolve. However unhappily for some that resolution might prove to be.

His own website makes it appear that Mr. Pickens is attempting to disguise his positioning himself for inclusion in a future Obama presidency by injecting the US Congress into a uniquely Texas issue.

On January 20, 2009, a new President gets sworn in. If we're organized, we can convince Congress to make major changes towards cleaner, cheaper and domestic energy resources.

Furthermore, his efforts to advance himself financially, while ordinarily a laudable endeavor, are here being done at the knowing expense of his fellow Texans. The legislative process in this state is a famously raucous one and knowledge of the legislature's pending vote on this transmission issue was hardly insider information. Mr. Pickens makes no reference to it on his website and specifically urges others to "join him" in encouraging the US Congress to inject itself into the issue. One has to wonder how much of all this has to do with Texas political, instead of power, transmission.

If any should have any remaining doubts, my own position is that Mr. Pickens is an opportunist who finds himself on the outside of both his industry and his politics and is prepared to do what he deems necessary to rectify that situation. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, by the way, but as ever the devil resides in the details of how one chooses to accomplish one's ends, doesn't it?

Via Instapundit on a hot Saturday night.

And to Brian Westenhaus at New Energy And Fuel, a blog I heartily recommend. Well written, Sir.

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