Gas, wind working together

By Andy Harvey

The absence of a comprehensive energy plan for the past 40 years is the reason why businessman T. Boone Pickens said the United States is having such economic trouble.

With gas prices tied to foreign importation and a weakened dollar, many people don’t know how the United States can repair the economy. But Pickens has a plan he believes, with the support of the government, can reduce the amount of foreign oil Americans import from other nations and save money in the process.

“We just cannot go another four years without having an energy plan. We have got to put the pressure on both these candidates-that we need to have a plan.” Pickens said. “If [the country] doesn’t have an energy plan ready, then our plan is to buy more foreign oil.”

On Oct. 14, Pickens held an open “town hall” meeting to discuss the issue. Pickens, a billionaire entrepreneur, has been promoting his plan aggressively for the past six months, hoping to educate people on the issue. Held at Navy Pier in the Grand Ballroom, more than 1,000 people attended the discussion, close to what public relations associate Liz Coffey said she expected.

“Mr. Pickens always draws a large crowd because of the important message he has on America’s energy crisis,” Coffey said. “We just planned accordingly.”

Congressman Rahm Emanuel of the 5th District introduced Pickens with a brief speech, in which he outlined his support for green initiatives.

“The work of the future is happening today in Illinois,” Emanuel said. “And [natural gas] isn’t a tomorrow technology, it’s available today.”

After Congressman Emanuel finished, Pickens began his speech, outlining the first step that would be replace natural gas power plants with power generated from wind turbines and solar panel farms. These alternative power sources could be placed in an area several hundred miles wide-stretching across the Midwest to Oklahoma to the Canadian border-that Pickens said is a “wind corridor.” A Department of Energy study showed that wind power in the area could generate 20 percent of the country’s power in 20 years.

“We can do it in 10 years, we just need to get the government to work on it,” Pickens said.

Pickens said the wind and solar power packages would not work by themselves. However, there are plenty of other fuels that can be used to supplement and back up that energy production, including coal and nuclear power.

“The wind doesn’t blow all the time, and the sun doesn’t shine all the time; so we have to design power generation that puts two or three different fuels together,” Pickens said.

By using a wind power for energy, natural gas would be available as a fuel source for cars, he said. By using natural gas instead of gasoline for part of the country’s fuel needs, the dependence on foreign oil can be reduced by 12 percent, for a savings of $500 billion.

Several representatives of the alternative energy industry were in the audience and agreed with the aim of Pickens’ plan. The Regional Vice President of S&C Energy, Tim Qualheim, was very hopeful about the future, saying that he believes Chicago will lead the way in such technologies.

“We’ve made a very strong commitment to the city of Chicago,” Qualheim said. “Wind power is becoming a very prominent technology, and we have the people here [who] can develop it.”

Pickens’ crusade for energy awareness isn’t known among everyone, but some people who know about the issue wish they could do more than support his plan.

“I’ve been planning to vote for McCain, but I’d vote for Pickens right now if he was running,” IU student Rodney Sutton said.

The thing that Pickens stressed the most to the audience was the need to act soon. His preference for natural gas as a solution was a recurring theme throughout his speech.

“It’s cleaner, cheaper, and it’s ours,” Pickens said. “So why aren’t we using it?”

Additional reporting by Sean Stillmaker.