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Fuel prices thwart Pickens' wind farm

T. Boone Pickens, Chairman and CEO of BP Capital

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: T. Boone Pickens said today he's putting plans to build the world's largest wind farm on hold. Pickens made his billions in oil, of course. But it's natural gas prices that're putting the kibosh on his wind farm. Pickens has been advertising his "Pickens Plan" like crazy. He wants to use wind and natural gas to get this country off foreign oil. Of course, oil closing at $55.77 today and gas off another 5 percent kind of throws a wrench into the economics of renewable energy.

But as Marketplace's Sam Eaton reports from the Sustainability desk, there may be a silver -- or a green, anyway -- lining.


SAM EATON: T. Boone Pickens' announcement to delay construction of a $10 billion Texas wind farm leaves a gaping hole in efforts to boost the nation's renewable energy portfolio. The oil tycoon says cheaper natural gas, also used to generate electricity, has taken some of the wind out of wind power. But Berkeley energy expert Dan Kammen says there's an even bigger problem -- finding the cash.

DAN KAMMEN: It's much more a question of the short-term capital available to initiate a project that is building several-hundred-foot-tall structures. Big infrastructure is needed.

And big bucks. Something that's hard to come by these days. Pickens own investment firm lost as much as $2 billion this year as stocks plummeted. Ethan Zindler of the clean energy research firm, New Energy Finance, says Pickens isn't alone. Major wind backer, GE, says it's "facing constraints."

ETHAN ZINDLER: I would say in the short run this is not good news for the industry.

But Zindler says the long run may be a different story.

ZINDLER: Because the traditional players -- a lot of them have either pulled in their horns or left the playing field entirely -- there's an opportunity for new players to come in and potentially earn higher returns because the industry very much needs that capital and needs it now.

And when it comes to capital, Zindler says one industry's still flush: Big Oil.

Throw Congress's new renewable energy tax credits into the mix and it's an opportunity oil giant BP has already found too good to pass up. Last week, the company announced it would shift the bulk of its $8 billion renewable energy spending program to projects in the U.S.

In Los Angeles, I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

About the author

Sam Eaton is an independent radio and television journalist. His reporting on complex environmental issues from climate change to population growth has taken him all over the United States and the world.

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