Legendary Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens recently detailed his plan to wean America off foreign oil by blanketing the Great Plains with wind turbines. But Pickens also has a lesser-known plan that is centered on another commodity, one every bit as vital to America's future as energyâ??water. If it all works out, his water plan could remake Pickens as a whole new kind of baron.Want to see if your ranchita is in the way of water-privatization progress? Doh! The trickster deleted the plans (aka, evidence?)!
Pickens is in the planning stages of a $1.5 billion initiative to pump billions of gallons of water from an ancient aquifer beneath the Texas Panhandle and build pipelines to ship them to thirsty cities such as Dallas. So far, no city has taken up his water company, Mesa Water, on the offer.
But company officials and experts agree that a continuation of the drought impacting large portions of the United States could turn Pickens into something of a water baron. His yet-to-be-built pipeline would follow the same 250-mile corridor as electric lines carrying power from his wind farms. Pickens prompted the creation of a public water supply district, run by his employees, that can claim private land for the pipeline route through eminent domain. (Follow the pipeline's path here.)
Sometime since the PopMech article, the Roberts County FWSD N01 (Pickens and a couple quail-huntin' buddies, I'm told) deleted the webpage.Step back on the url to the "district" home and we find the project has been "suspended for now," though the district (thank your stars!) is continuing efforts to acquire and develop water rights."
In 2007, U.S. utilities installed about 3,200 turbines with a total generating capacity of 5.24 gigawatts of electricity: If these turbines were to generate electricity 25 percent of the time â?? a typical load factor â?? they would produce enough electricity for about one million households for a year. (The U.S. has more than 110 million households.) But even if today's natural gas-fired power plant capacity were replaced at an unrealistic 1:1 ratio by wind turbines, Pickens is talking about installing 40 gigawatts of wind power a year â?? roughly 8 times the 2007 pace.Cost of transmission line.
Without knowing the specifics, which Pickens' plan do not address, this may or may not be enough to link nearly 400 gigawatts of newly installed wind-generating capacity in the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas with high urban concentrations on the coasts. In any case, the construction pace would be a huge challenge. During the 1990s, U.S. utilities built about 9,700 miles of new HV lines and plans for this decade amount to less than 8,000 miles â?? one-fifth to one-sixth of the 40,000 to 50,000 miles required under the Pickens plan.And the auto conversions.
While they are efficient, clean, and entirely desirable (I had advocated their use as far back as the first oil "crisis" of 1973), scaling of their ownership to tens of millions units, from fewer than 200,000 such cars today, would be extremely difficult to do in a single decade â?? and only a few of America's nearly 120,000 service stations now offer natural gas ...The Texas oilman is right: This is a crisis of America's own making. Federal mileage standards doubled America's passenger car fuel efficiency between 1976 and 1986, to 27.5 mpg.But don't let me stop you. Watch the PP video. But when the water router gets a'groanin, remember, Popular Mechanics tried to warn you.
But with the ensuing decades of inexpensive oil, no new standards were set. A mere continuation of the 1976-1986 rate of improvement would have meant that American cars today would average close to 50 mpg, eliminating the need for nearly 70 percent of the crude oil we import. Moreover, a massive adoption of SUVs pushed the passenger vehicle fleet performance to just 22 mpg by 2006. And if America hopes to make up for its gasoline profligacy with more drilling, that will not prove to be effective solution: More oil will be discovered in America's offshore waters, but not nearly enough to make the country self-sufficient, even after two to three decades of such activity.
Support Local Journalism.
Join the San Antonio Current Press Club
Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.
Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.
Join the San Antonio Press Club for as little as $5 a month.