28 May 2009

T. Boone Pickens Encourages Alternative Energy In Michigan

Story from the Chicago Tribune

MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. - Energy baron T. Boone Pickens said Thursday the Great Lakes region has great potential for generating wind power, although he has no immediate plans to back up the assessment with his own money.

Pickens, who made his fortune as a Texas oil producer, preached his newly minted gospel of alternative energy during the Detroit Regional Chamber's annual policy conference. The billionaire shared the stage with Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who has made renewable energy the centerpiece of her push to diversify Michigan's economy.

Both said Michigan can play a key role in weaning the U.S. off foreign oil -- an essential goal for protecting the nation's security and economy. Without a national energy plan focused on alternatives, Americans will be importing three-fourths of their oil at a staggering cost of $300 a barrel within a decade, Pickens said.

Despite promises from presidents going back to Richard Nixon, the nation has yet to confront its oil addiction, Pickens said. Soaring fuel costs last year were one consequence of inaction, he said.

"Cheap oil continued to be a bailout to us over those years," he said. "Consequently, America was never asked to look at what would happen" if supplies tightened and prices soared. "For 40 years, I have watched us having no energy plan and wondered when we were going to hit the wall."

He is funding a $60 million campaign to boost wind power and natural gas, and is trying to develop a gigantic wind farm in western Texas. Pickens said he isn't looking for investments in Michigan projects because he is focusing on his home state, but would encourage others to do so.

"Michigan is a big state and you have a lot of resources here," he said. "I would think people would see it as an opportunity."

Winning energy independence, he said, will require cultivating a wide variety of sources -- including manufacturing cars powered by batteries, natural gas and other unconventional fuels.

"I'm for anything, just so it's American," he said in an interview. "I want off foreign oil. I don't want the oil from Venezuela or the Mideast or Africa."

He also endorsed an energy tax to reduce demand for oil and generate revenue for renewable energy development but said he wouldn't make it a priority. "I don't stump for taxing anybody," he said, adding that the politicians he'd spoken with "get a tight collar" when he raised the issue.

Granholm agreed: "It's hard. Citizens are hurting."

Wind, solar and battery technology hold the best promise for Michigan, although the state is promoting other forms of alternative energy such as biomass, Granholm said. Legislation enacted last year requires that 10 percent of the state's energy come from renewable sources by 2015.

"In the next few years, we are going to create an entire new industry in designing and manufacturing advanced batteries for green vehicles," the Democratic governor said.

The state is offering $700 million in tax credits to encourage development of battery technology and hopes for a share of federal economic stimulus money earmarked for the purpose.

Many of Michigan's auto suppliers are well positioned to manufacture components for wind turbines, such as gear boxes, drive trains and carbon fiber moldings, Granholm said.

"It's far less expensive to ship a wind turbine blade or tower to Duluth from Bay City or Port Huron or Muskegon than from Denmark," she said. "We have the deep water ports and the manufacturing supply chain, and we're putting on a full-court press to attract more wind turbine manufacturers to Michigan."

Another state tax credit aims to lure solar producers to join Hemlock Semiconductor and United Solar Ovonic, two Michigan companies already in the business.

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