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Pickens Ditches Texas Wind Project, Cozies Up to Natural Gas

So is it a drop in natural gas prices or the lack of available transmission lines that caused billionaire T. Boone Pickens to ditch plans to build the world's largest wind farm in Texas? Turns out, a combination of both.

Pickens, as part of his grand plan to wean the U.S. off of foreign oil, announced in May 2008 that his company Mesa Power LP would order 687 wind turbines from GE for about $2 billion. The turbines were supposed to all end up in the Texas Panhandle to create a $10 billion wind farm with 1,000 megawatts of capacity -- the largest in the world. The project was originally envisioned at 4,000 megawatts, as fellow BNET Energy blogger Chris Morrison noted last year.

Pickens has back peddled ever since and now has cut his order for wind turbines by more than half, according to a blog post on Pickens' Web site and a report Wednesday by the Dallas Morning News. The remaining 300 turbines won't even make it to Texas. Canada and Minnesota will now be the lucky recipients of the turbines.

Pickens plan focuses on two main domestically produced elements: natural gas and wind. His idea is to upgrade the electrical transmission grid; use natural gas as a transportation fuel; and use wind and solar -- not coal -- to generate electricity.

But less than a year after Pickens announced plans for his so-called Pampa project, credit markets dried up and the delays began. By July, Pickens had postponed his project until 2013 when a $4.9 billion transmission line project in Texas was expected to be completed. And here's where the miscalculation -- an expensive one at that -- started.

Transmission projects are a sticky, expensive business. And they're a huge obstacle to building wind capacity in the United States. Aside from the cost, a lot of folks simply don't like the idea of a transmission line going through their backyard.

No worries, though. Pickens is still cozy with natural gas. And based on comments he made in the Dallas Morning News report, low natural gas prices are the straw that ultimately broke the massive wind project's back. The low prices have encouraged companies to switch from coal to natural gas-fired power plants. So, in Pickens' mind, why bother with the headache of raising funds to build a transmission line to support a wind farm if natural gas is abundant and cheap?

This means Pickens will be pushing harder than ever to ensure the NAT Gas Act, otherwise known as the New Alternative Transportation to Give American's Solutions Act, is passed. And he'll be on the prowl to protect the natural gas industry, namely keeping efforts to regulate hydraulic fracturing, a technique used in unconventional gas production, at bay.

On a side note: Pickens, along with John Podesta, president and CEO of the Center American Progress Action Fund, are scheduled Wednesday to give an update via teleconference on the energy and natural gas legislation.

See additional BNET coverage of T. Boone Pickens:

Image of wind turbine in Texas from Flickr user Biggunben, CC 2.0
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