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This photo taken on October 29, 2010 shows a man running past wind turbines in the early morning mist in the Ngong hills, some 25 kms south-west of Nairobi, which are owned and run by Kenya's main power generating company KENGEN. The majority of Kenyans are unwilling to abandon their traditional energy sources in favour of cleaner or renewable ones unless their incomes rise significantly, a study has found. - 


Kai Ryssdal: The White House is sticking up for American wind power. Today the Obama administration made a formal complaint to the World Trade Organization. It says China is illegally subsidizing its wind companies. That may or may not be true.

There will be claims and counter-claims and an investigation. But either way, foreign competition is only one challenge that American wind power companies have to deal with. This week their unofficial spokesman, billionaire oil man T. Boone Pickens, stuck his finger in the air and took wind power out of his plan for America.

From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Scott Tong reports.

Scott Tong: T. Boone Pickens once planned to build the largest wind farm on earth. Here's a commercial from his website:

T. Boone Pickens in commercial: We have the best wind corridor in the world. We're going to revitalize rural America with this.

Two years ago, 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.

Mike Giberson: That sort of torpedoed his transmission line project, which meant that he didn't have a good way to develop and sell that power.

Hello GE? Cancel those turbines. And delete wind power from Pickens public plan for America's future. Now the other half of his plan -- homegrown natural gas -- is the only part. Here's the new commercial:

Pickens in commercial: We're gonna figure out how to use it. If we don't, I promise you, we will go down as the absolute dumbest crowd that ever came on the street.

Thanks to new drilling technology, natural gas is abundant and cheap. Which makes things tough for everything else: coal, solar, wind. Financial consultant Ray Perryman.

Ray Perryman: Relative prices do matter. And there are times when things work in a market and times when they don't. Right now natural gas prices are lower, and when you have to make it work for investors every quarter, that creates some issues.

But in the energy business, the issues -- as in volatility -- never go away. Perryman's seen oil at $8 and at $108. With natural gas, there are no guarantees either.

In Washington, I'm Scott Tong for Marketplace.

Follow Scott Tong at @tongscott