By Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
T. Boone Pickens has temporarily shelved plans to build the world's biggest wind farm in the Texas Panhandle because of tight credit markets and low natural gas prices, and his company Mesa Power is looking for other projects that could use the $2 billion worth of wind turbines already on order.
Pickens unveiled plans in 2007 for the 4,000-megawatt wind farm -- big enough to power 1.3 million homes -- at a projected cost of $10 billion. In May 2008, Pickens ordered 667 wind turbines from General Electric for the first of four project phases. Mesa is scheduled to begin taking delivery in 2011.
The project was a symbol of the oilman's commitment to his high-profile campaign to slash the nation's dependence on foreign oil with a combination of wind power and the use of natural gas in vehicles.
"Boone still remains committed and focused on developing wind energy in the United States," said Jay Rosser, a spokesman for Pickens's BP Capital Management. "The timing is not as aggressive as he originally outlined because of the collapse of the capital markets and because of the steep downturn of natural gas prices." (Many utilities are choosing natural gas to generate electricity.)
Rosser said Mesa Power was also unable to borrow $2 billion for transmission lines to link the wind farm to the Texas grid. "Now we're going to wait for the state to put the transmission [lines] in, which will invariably be slower than what we were planning," Rosser said.
He said Mesa Power was looking at projects in the Midwest and Canada that might need the turbines.
Pickens made his fortune in the oil business but last year lost a big chunk of it in oil trading because he failed to anticipate a swift drop in prices. He has spent $60 million promoting the Pickens Plan for reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
Rosser said, "We've got a lot of skin in the game -- and a lot of turbines."