Pickens’ Windy Scheme Will Leave Taxpayers Holding the Bag

Published August 22, 2008

T. Boone Pickens is a smart businessman. In fact, he’s a genius at it. In a world where the manufacturers of “green” this and “Earth-friendly” that are rolling in, um, er–green–Pickens has found a way to make the millions spent on jute supermarket bags look like chump change. The state of Texas’s investment of $4.93 billion in wind technology is going to make wind farmers such as Pickens even wealthier.

Pickens’ good fortune overshadows the misfortune of Texas taxpayers who will have to pay for this losing endeavor.

Like many states trying to cope with high energy prices, Texas is banking on wind as the next “big thing.” Unfortunately, wind has had a poor history as an energy source.

For starters, wind power is very unreliable. The turbines that produce the electricity work only when the wind is blowing within a specific, narrow range of speed. In its downtime, the system has to revert to conventional power sources, and the switching between wind and conventional power requires an even greater output of energy just to make the conversion.

Second, wind farms require vast amounts of land in order to garner any energy. Landscapes across America would be blighted by countless regiments of these monstrous machines–often taller than the U.S. Capitol. Much of this land would be acquired through the controversial practice of “eminent domain,” where the government takes private land for the “good” of the larger populace.

With all this tax money and other government favors floating around, naturally many wind farms are now being created for the sole purpose of serving as tax shelters. Large landowners are finding it profitable to use their land for tax breaks and subsidies that are more lucrative than the revenue from electricity they produce. Texas taxpayers are being forced to throw their money to the wind.

Pickens’ recent environmental conversion is a perfect example. He has been buying water rights from the Ogallala Aquifer in the hopes of pipelining water to Dallas–which would provide him with a major windfall. The best route for pipelining that water is the land the state of Texas has granted Pickens to build windmills. Scratch an environmentalist, and you’ll often find an opportunist.

Wind-garnered energy certainly has a place in our energy production mix, along with coal, nuclear, and fossil fuel energy–but it should not come at the expense of the Texas taxpayer.

If Pickens is serious about wind technology, he can well afford to fund the project himself. Governments shouldn’t make us pay for risky business ventures just to make more billions for billionaires while leaving taxpayers holding a bag of wind.

Zonia Pino ([email protected]) is a legislative specialist for The Heartland Institute.