For some on the right coast, the current renewable energy craze seems like a rerun of that ’70s show, the province of California dreamers and pie-in-the-sky Silicon Valley techies. But increasingly it’s all about Big Business, a point driven home Thursday by a deal struck by two decidedly non-crunchy granola types: billionaire oilman T. Boone Pickens and General Electric chief Jeffrey Immelt.
Pickens’ Mesa Power placed an order for 667 GE (GE) wind turbines for the first phase of a massive 4,000-megawatt, 400,000-acre West Texas wind farm called the Pampa Wind Project. When completed in 2014, Pampa is expected to produce enough clean green energy to light up 1.3 million homes, according to Mesa. Each of those 667 turbines alone can generate 1.5 megawatts of electricity. The first phase of the project will cost $2 billion, with a good chunk of the cash going to GE.
That a legendary wildcatter like Pickens sees big money to be made from renewable energy in an oil state like Texas is just another sign that green is not a fad but the future. “You find an oilfield, it peaks and starts declining, and you’ve got to find another one to replace it,” Pickens said in a statement. “It can drive you crazy. With wind, there’s no decline curve.” (Just how much money Pickens will make off wind will depend on whether Congress extends a production tax credit that makes such projects viable.)
When it comes to energy, Texas is literally its own country, as the Lone Star State is not plugged into the national power grid and must generate nearly all its electricity within its borders. Aggressive efforts by Texas regulators and entrepreneurs to make the state energy independent by upgrading its transmission system and tapping wind power are models for the rest of the country.