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Legendary Oil Man T. Boone Pickens Promotes Wind Energy

He made his fortune in oil, but energy tycoon T. Boone Pickens has now embarked on a national public relations campaign to move the country away from oil and towards a renewable energy future. But, as VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, many energy experts are skeptical about his proposals.

In a video message broadcast on television and the Internet, T. Boone Pickens is warning the people of the United States about the looming energy crisis the country faces.

"We do not need any more talk," he said. "We need action and we need a plan and it has got to be the top priority of the next president and the next Congress. I am T. Boone Pickens. I have been an oil man my whole life, but this is one emergency we cannot drill our way out of."

In his campaign, Pickens says that the United States is sending some $700 billion a year to overseas oil producers because U.S. production has fallen far behind domestic demand. In lectures he has posted online, Pickens explains how oil use could be diminished by switching 22 percent of electrical generation from natural gas-driven generators to wind generators and then using the natural gas for transportation.

"We are going to take this 22 percent and we are going to get it out of power generation, because we are going to get 22 percent from wind and move the natural gas out," he explained. "We know it works for transportation fuel, [there are] eight million vehicles in the world operating on natural gas right now."

Pickens says this would offset 38 percent of the petroleum the United States is now importing and, at current prices, save the nation $300 billion a year.

But Pickens has ruffled many of his colleagues in the oil industry by suggesting that searching for more oil here at home is not part of the answer. Brian Kennedy of the Institute for Energy Research says Pickens went too far when he disparaged the idea of more domestic drilling.

"I think it is a misleading sound bite, frankly. What we need to do is increase the production of all forms of economically viable energy that we have in this country," he said. "Drilling is certainly a massive part of that."

Kennedy supports President Bush's call for more exploration and development off U.S. coasts in areas that Congress has placed off limits. He says the country will need that oil in the years ahead, because alternative energies are unlikely to fill the gap.

"We are going to be an economy that is petrochemical based for the foreseeable future," he added. "To pretend that we are not, while it may make some people feel good, is going to be very hurtful to our economy and our consumers."

Kennedy notes that renewable fuels make up only about six percent of energy supply in the United States now in spite of decades of investment and research. He notes that each energy source has its own problems. For example, the wind power Pickens touts is dependent on the wind blowing all the time and the areas where the wind blows the most tend to be far from the urban centers where the electrical power is needed.

Pickens has invested his own money in a $10-billion project to create the world's largest wind farm in the Texas panhandle. He says he will build the transmission lines to get that power to the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area if state officials fail to provide the proper infrastructure. Pickens estimates that he will be able to light 300,000 homes with the power generated by his wind turbines.

The Pickens plan to shift vehicles from petroleum to natural gas faces criticism as well. Automakers have failed to embrace the idea in spite of numerous attempts by Pickens to convince them. Natural gas is also a limited resource, according to Gal Luft, director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security.

"It is not really clear to me where is the strategic benefit from shifting millions and millions of cars from one resource to another when both resources are so problematic," he said.

Luft says using natural gas to power vehicles would soon lead back to heavy reliance on imports. He says a better strategy would involve moving away from dependence on fossil fuels by promoting a wide variety of alternatives.

"Let's open the market and allow several sources of energy to compete against each other. Once you have this competition, once you have cars that are, in fact, platforms in which fuels can compete, the market will sort itself out in a way that those that make economic sense will prevail and, hopefully, it will be energy resources we can develop domestically," he explained.

Energy has emerged as a hot topic in this year's presidential election. T. Boone Pickens, for one, would like an even stronger focus on the issue. He plans to meet with officials in Washington to promote his plan and he is relying on his ad campaign to build public support behind him.