T. Boone Pickens scraps wind farm for now

T. Boone Pickens is not a modest man. Then again, the self-made billionaire has earned the right to brag a little even though his ego was bruised today by the high-profile flop of his $8 billion wind energy project in his native Texas. Pickens, 81, was undaunted declaring at press conference on Capitol Hill, "I didn't cancel it ...Financing is tough right now and so it's going to be delayed a year or two."

"Cancel" may not be the right word. How about review? Pickens, who gained fame as a corporate raider in the 1980s, was planning to build the world's largest wind facility, at a site in the windy, flatlands near Pampa, Texas, which would generate enough electricity to power about 1.2 million homes.

He also placed a huge order for more than 660 turbines with General Electric (GE). A GE spokesman had no immediate commentBut times have changed since the Pickens Wind Farm was first unveiled in 2007.

The sky-high oil prices which made the Pickens project look viable came crashing down to earth and credit markets dried up. Moreover, Pickens encountered technical problems he had not expected, according to Ken Starcher, associate director for the Alternative Energy Institute at West Texas A&M University.

"It was hammered by circumstances that were outside his control," Starcher said in an interview with DailyFinance. "He had a real good idea."'

Pickens has advocated greater use of natural-powered vehicles for years though critics have argued that the oilman's interest in that particular alternative fuel was motivated by self-interest.

In the press conference, Pickens said he remains committed to wind power in the U.S. and Canada. Wind energy is a key part of the Pickens Plan, the tycoon's program to end U.S. dependence on foreign oil.It calls for building new wind generation facilities that will produce 20 percent of our nation's electricity within 10 years.

Just how viable wind energy will be if oil prices remain relatively low remains to be seen. Many solar energy companies and wind power companies are struggling.

"You've got an industry that is kind of hanging on by its fingernails," said Denise Bode, chief executive of the American Wind Energy Association, in an interview with Reuters.

Another problem was logistical. Pickens needed to spend about $2 billion building a new transmission line to connect the wind farm with the two electricity grids that operate in Texas. This has the potential to create delays which would be intolerable.

"You don't want a wind farm sitting there for two years," Starcher said.

Pickens should be able to make a profit on the turbines though it won't be nearly as great of a return had he been able to build the plants.

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