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Thu, Jul 09, 2009 - Page 10 News List

Pickens downsizes plan for giant wind project in Texas

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

In a sign of the difficulties facing the development of wind energy, the legendary Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens is suspending plans to build the world’s largest wind farm.

Over the near term, Pickens instead plans to build three or four smaller wind farms, at a cost of some US$2 billion.

He said that he was unsure whether he would ever revive the giant wind project in the Texas Panhandle that has been on the drawing board for years.

“I think at this point anything’s possible,” he said in an interview.

Pickens cited several factors that caused him to alter his plans, including lack of transmission lines and a fall-off in the price of natural gas, with which wind competes as a power source.

The project was also hurt by the financial turmoil that has stymied activity across the once-popular renewable energy industry.

“Everything kind of slowed us down,” Pickens said.

Pickens’s struggles are symptomatic of a broader reversal of fortune for wind developers.

This year, Emerging Energy Research, a consulting firm, expects a drop of nearly 25 percent in the amount of new wind power installed compared with last year.

Two crucial provisions to aid renewable energy in the stimulus package passed in February have yet to be introduced, Keith Martin, a tax and project finance specialist with the law firm Chadbourne & Parke, said.

“People expect that once supply of capital picks up and stimulus rolls out, that things will improve in the second half of the year,” Martin said. “But they’re waiting.”

Pickens’ situation is of particular interest because he has spent much of the last year advocating an energy plan that includes increasing to 20 percent the amount of the nation’s electricity that is supplied by wind power.

In his vision, that would free up natural gas now used to generate power so that it could be used in cars, reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. (Currently, wind accounts for just 1 percent of the US’ electricity.)

For the huge wind farm he had planned in Texas, Pickens had already ordered 687 large wind turbines from General Electric, to be delivered starting in 2011.

But transmission lines being built by the state were unlikely to reach the location he has leased until 2013, so he needed to put the turbines elsewhere.

Pickens had once planned to build his own transmission lines, but difficulty in finding financing amid the credit crisis forced him to shelve that plan.

Possible locations for the 687 turbines include Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas and Alberta, Canada, Pickens said.

Collectively, at a capacity of 1,000 megawatts — about the size of a nuclear plant — his project would still amount to a substantial investment in wind power.

He had planned his Panhandle wind farm at 4,000 megawatts.

“We’re going to be active in the business,” Pickens said.

“It’s not that we’ve gotten out of the business or anything like that,” he said.

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