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Power Businesses The Almighty Buck

Pickens Wind-Power Plan Comes To a Whimpering End 346

Spy Handler writes "In 2008, billionaire T. Boone Pickens unveiled his 'Pickens Plan' on national TV, which calls for America to end its dependence on foreign oil by increasing use of wind power and natural gas. Over the next two years, he spent $80 million on TV commercials and $2 billion on General Electric wind turbines. Unfortunately market forces were not favorable to Mr. Pickens, and in December 2010 he announced that he is getting out of the wind power business. What does he plan to do with his $2 billion worth of idle wind turbines? He is trying to sell them to Canada, because of Canadian law that mandates consumers to buy more renewable electricity regardless of cost."
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Pickens Wind-Power Plan Comes To a Whimpering End

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  • Re:And so (Score:5, Informative)

    by Moryath ( 553296 ) on Saturday December 25, 2010 @10:58AM (#34665372)

    I'm not sure quite what you are referring to.

    Oil gets subsidized to a certain degree. But if you really want to see massive subsidies and protectionist, fucked-up tariffs and other governmental screwups at work, you need to look at the corn lobby. For the past five years, corn subsidies have been $37b; oil subsidies only $14b.

    The end result is our diet is fucked up (way, way too much chemically incorrect HFCS []), and regular sugar being way more expensive than it should be.

    Plus, because corn is subsidized, all the farmers grow corn (which actually is a shit-poor source of energy once you calculate the net gain post-processing) instead of something better.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 25, 2010 @11:03AM (#34665380)

    I'm in Canada. There are several provincial efforts to specify a certain percentage of renewable power by a particular date (e.g., 25% of power from renewable sources by 2015), and/or the ability for customers to voluntarily pay more if they want to buy renewable power -- as in, pay an extra few percent on your power bill and the power company guarantees that all that money will be invested in renewable power production (e.g., wind turbines). The laws don't say "regardless of cost", and don't specify doing it by wind turbines. They usually say "achieve this benchmark for renewable power by this date". The power companies are free to achieve that goal however they want, including importing power from elsewhere (e.g., Nova Scotia recently made a deal for a new hydroelectric power project in Labrador). It *may* cost more money, or maybe not. Depending upon how high the price of oil or other fossil fuels go in the next few years, it might not actually be more expensive in the long run. Realistically, it probably will be in the short term, but I think of it as "achieve this renewable energy target the cheapest way the market can figure out", not "regardless of cost".

  • Fossil fuel lobby? (Score:1, Informative)

    by whiteboy86 ( 1930018 ) on Saturday December 25, 2010 @11:03AM (#34665386)
    The state subsidy for coal electricity is absurdly high, it is still like 10x more then for renewable energy. No wonder expensive green energy projects can't compete.
  • Re:And so (Score:4, Informative)

    by chill ( 34294 ) on Saturday December 25, 2010 @11:04AM (#34665394) Journal

    His two biggest issues were distribution and the ever decreasing price of natural gas.

    First was where he was putting a bunch of the turbines. This was northern Texas and Oklahoma. Lots of flat plains and wind there, but no serious energy distribution grid. Pickens specifically lamented the lack of transmission capability.

    The second was as the processes of recovering natural gas from shale and other sources becomes cheaper and more efficient, the price of natgas dropped like a rock.

    Look here, especially at the drop in the last column for 2009: []

    From what I understand, it is even lower in 2010. Pickens was touting competitiveness of wind with an electric power price of $7 or greater on natural gas. In 2008 it was over $9 and had been rising, but today it is hovering around $4.

  • by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Saturday December 25, 2010 @11:06AM (#34665402) Homepage
    It wasn't just the price of wind that was an issue. From TFA:

    Pickens placed a $1.5 billion wind turbine order from GE. But the problem: transporting the energy from West Texas to the rest of the state. Pickens planned to build his own transmission, but the approvals fell through, says economist Mike Giberson at Texas Tech.

    This isn't an issue of relative energy cost. This is an issue of not being given permission to build the basic infrastructure he needed for his system to work.

  • Re:And so (Score:5, Informative)

    by wagnerrp ( 1305589 ) on Saturday December 25, 2010 @12:01PM (#34665630)
    It's simple. You use breeder reactors and fuel reprocessing. Your waste drops to next to nothing. The waste you do produce is very radioactive, meaning it only needs to be stored for a few decades before it is depleted. Your usable fuel supply grows by about 500 times, and you don't have to send it through an extremely costly refinement process. It's not like they're anything new, they've been around in experimental form since the 50s, and there have been a handful of production reactors over the years. But wait, they produce plutonium as one of their intermediate products, and that can be used to make more fission bombs. We can't have that.
  • Re:And so (Score:3, Informative)

    by LordLimecat ( 1103839 ) on Saturday December 25, 2010 @12:19PM (#34665740)
    Probably off topic, and feel free to mod as such, but Id like to take issue with part of your post--

    The end result is our diet is fucked up (way, way too much chemically incorrect HFCS []),

    I see this meme all over the place, and yet I have yet to see a study which actually shows a causation of bad health in any way to HFCS, in a way that sucrose would not also be responsible.

    Heres my theory as to why that wont happen--

    1. Sucrose metabolises into a 1:1 mix of fructose and glucose []. HFCS is generally 55% fructose and 42% glucose []-- so its almost identical after metabolism.
    2. Sucrose has about 4kcal per gram. HFCS has about 3kcal per gram. [] So if anything is going to cause build up of fat-- which is basically stored excess energy-- sucrose does the job about 33% faster gram for gram, absent some factor that no one has yet explained.
    3. HFCS-55 is about as sweet as sucrose, so similar amounts can be used.

    The biggest reason, HFCS is just one of those "popular to hate" things. Doing an actual study with equal amounts of sucrose and HFCS in a human metabolism to show the facts just isnt in vogue right now. Making baseless causal links between obesity and HFCS, uniquely as compared to sucrose, is in vogue. People can run around feeling superior for claiming that they know best, and can feel good for being involved in the anti-HFCS campaign, never mind that ingesting a tenth of a pound of sugar per coke is going to make anyone fat, whether its sucrose or HFCS. Never mind that eating bread with about 10 grams of sugar per slice probably isnt the healthiest thing in the world, no, the real scandal is that its HFCS! (And if you think im kidding, take a look at that honey-wheat bread, or that wonder bread... why do you think its so tasty?)

    People need to wake up and stop blaming some bogeyman, and realize that if you eat a diet filled with sugar in all of your foods and drinks, youre going to get fat if you have a normal metabolism.

  • Re:And so (Score:5, Informative)

    by Surt ( 22457 ) on Saturday December 25, 2010 @01:25PM (#34665972) Homepage Journal

    Here you go: []
    If you have a supposition about why the human studies will turn out differently, that would be interesting to hear.

  • Re:And so (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sir_Dill ( 218371 ) <.slashdot. .at.> on Saturday December 25, 2010 @01:30PM (#34666016) Homepage
    I have had this same argument with many people.

    The issue its convoluted by special interest, however, I do believe HFCS is not a healthy product, and here is my argument.

    You point out that surcrose breaks down to about the same thing that is in HFCS, but what you fail to take into consideration that there is an energy cost associated with the body doing the work vs having both products readily available to your body.
    The net result is that while on paper they seem to be equivalent and the gross calories in similar quantities are close enough to not seem different, the reality is that HFCS is ready for rapid absorption and and use by your body, while straight up sucrose takes some work to prepare which to some degree lowers the net caloric intake for sugar over HFCS.

    Check out the wikipedia article on fructose and check out the metabolism section. []
    The whole argument that HFCS is the same as sugar and no different to your body is complete horseshit.
    The fact that HFCS is usually a 1:1 ratio of glucose and fructose may even exacerbate the issue since there have been some recent studies which indicate increased uptake and absorption when fructose and glucose are administered this way.
    There are other factors as well, since HFCS is cheaper (due to subsidies) and has a longer shelf life than sucrose, and sweeter than sucrose, food manufacturers looking to make a palatable shelf stable product turn to HFCS because its cheaper, sweeter(thus less is needed), and easier to deal with. Sweet is a flavor humans are biologically predisposed to and makes things taste better, but somethings shouldn't be sweet, so they have to add sodium to offset this sweetness and maintain palatability while "tasting" better than other products. This has led to an arms race in the food industry that has been increasing sugar and sodium content in prepared foods over the last 25 years.
    Don't believe me? Compare similar products in the store, I will bet you that the products using HFCS have more salt and sugar than a similar product that uses sucrose.

    So yes, I think HFCS is not healthy because it adds easy to process calories and it is in so much of the food that people can afford to eat and while it may not be single handedly causing the obesity issues in the USA and to a lesser degree the world, but its inclusion into high caloric, shelf stable, cheap, unfilling food leads to consumption of unhealthy amounts. Its difficult to moderate intake when its in everything that you can afford to eat.

  • Re:And so (Score:5, Informative)

    by NoSig ( 1919688 ) on Saturday December 25, 2010 @02:51PM (#34666368)
    It is true that it is more radioactive and hence more dangerous and harder to handle in the short term, just as the GP pointed out. For that reason it has a shorter half-life and so only has to be stored for a few decades, which means that the little waste that is produced is actually far easier to get rid of. That is because you don't have to find a perfect place that you know (suspect) will remain geologically stable for 10,000 years - you can maybe even just leave it at the reactor site and come back 50 years later when there is no more waste left.
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Saturday December 25, 2010 @03:17PM (#34666496) Homepage

    To understand wind power, look at the wind map of the United States []. Wind turbines aren't useful unless the average wind speed is in the 8 m/sec range and up. Note the huge high-wind area from the Texas panhandle up to Canada. That's where Pickens wanted to operate. Good place for wind turbines, but no nearby place that needs the power. So some long transmission lines were needed. The problem is not that "regulators" wouldn't let Pickens build transmission lines. It's that he wanted governments to pay for them. [] See Pickens' testimony before Congress. [] He wanted eminent domain powers and tax credits for high-tension lines. Back in 2009, though, he couldn't raise the $2 billion needed to build them. []

    Those wind charts come in much finer detail. Look at the California wind map. [] There are four really good wind areas in California, and they all have large wind farms operating. There's room for further expansion out at Mojave, but the other three sites are essentially full. Those are all successful operations, because they're reasonably near big loads.

    Also, the Pickens claim that collecting wind power over a large area would provide significant base load capacity may be bogus. See the live data for the PJM grid []. (This brings up a big Flash application showing what the power grid for the Northeastern US is doing. Switch one of the panels to "Wind Power" and set the scale to "All Data".) Within a 3-day period, total wind power for the entire Northeast US can range over an 8 to 1 range. That's from real, operating wind farms.

  • by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Saturday December 25, 2010 @05:06PM (#34666914)
    The effect was that he was offered electric rights only, and he refused. He wouldn't build the electric lines to give people cheap renewable energy unless they gave him unrelated rights-of-way. From here, he attempted extortion and paid millions in ads to convince people that it was the government blocking his altruistic goal of cheap renewable energy for everyone.

    Refusing extortion seems like a good idea. Even if the power would have been nice, giving away billions in subsidies to a billionaire extortionist doesn't sound like a good thing for the people.
  • Re:Atlas Shrugged (Score:4, Informative)

    by lwsimon ( 724555 ) <> on Saturday December 25, 2010 @09:53PM (#34668074) Homepage Journal

    Wrong story. "The Fountainhead" was about an architect (Howard Roark). Atlas Shrugged was primarily about a railroad tycoon (Dagny Taggart), a steel baron (Henry Reardon) and a philosophist-hero (John Galt).

FORTRAN is the language of Powerful Computers. -- Steven Feiner