T. Boone Pickens sells off stake in wind farm

Source: By Zack Colman, The Hill • Posted: Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Billionaire oil-and-gas tycoon T. Boone Pickens is abandoning his long-planned wind farm, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Pickens has in recent years changed his eponymous “Pickens Plan” for reducing oil imports to emphasize natural gas rather than wind power for electricity generation. The Star Tribune reported Pickens sold his stake in the Goodhue County, Minn., farm, but that the 50-turbine, $180 million project will go forward.

In the original plan he rolled out in 2008, Pickens pushed for increasing domestic wind power capacity to help wean the nation off oil imports.

Pickens backed his talk with his bank account, securing a large plot of land in Texas for a proposed wind farm.

But the recession hit, permitting problems ensued and Pickens moved the farm to Minnesota.

Then natural gas tumbled to record-low prices, causing Pickens to shift to that energy source in his plan as the main driver for domestic electricity generation.

That market dynamic also has spelled trouble for a crucial wind energy incentive.

The 2.2-cent per kilowatt-hour incentive for wind power production, known as the production tax credit (PTC), is set to expire Dec. 31.

A significant bloc of Republicans, along with GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, opposes extending the incentive.

They call the PTC an example of unnecessary government intervention into energy markets, and argue that the uptick of natural gas for electricity generation shows energy production is best left to free markets.

President Obama as well as many Democratic and Republican lawmakers representing sizable wind energy sectors want to extend the incentive, and Obama has tried to turn the issue into an election vulnerability for his opponent.

Supporters of the tax credit cite industry-backed estimates that failing to extend it would cost 37,000 direct and indirect jobs. Many wind energy firms, such as Siemens and Vestas Wind Systems, have cited the uncertainty surrounding the incentive’s future to explain recent layoffs.

Supporters also say the incentive is working and helping the wind industry catch up to legacy energy technologies such as oil and coal. For proof, they point to wind electricity accounting for 35 percent of all newly installed generating capacity in 2011.

Though he has not endorsed a presidential candidate, Pickens said in August that Obama has thwarted increased oil-and-gas production by restricting drilling on federal lands.