Maverick oilman Pickens puts $2B bet on Texas wind power

By Stephen Singer Modified: May 19, 2008 at 11:17 am •  Published: May 15, 2008
HARTFORD, Conn. — Maverick oilman T. Boone Pickens' plan for a mammoth wind farm in the Texas Panhandle is a $2 billion bet that Congress will extend a tax credit critical to the environmentally-friendly industry.

Pickens' company, Mesa Power, is purchasing hundreds of wind turbines from General Electric Co. to create the Pampa Wind Project, which will eventually cover 400,000 acres and generate enough power for more than 1.3 million homes.

"We are making Pampa the wind capital of the world," Pickens said. "It's clear that landowners and local officials understand the economic benefits that this renewable energy can bring not only to landowners who are involved with the project, but also in revitalizing an area that has struggled in recent years."

Pickens said the total cost of the deal will grow to between $10 billion and $12 billion after the initial $2 billion investment in GE's turbine technology. The entire four-phase project is forecast for completion in 2014. It will eventually have 4,000 megawatts of capacity.

Wind farms and other alternative fuels are gaining more interest as the cost of oil keeps breaking records. Oil prices hit a trading record near $127 a barrel Tuesday.

Pickens, who was born in nearby Oklahoma and made the early part of his fortune hunting for oil and natural gas, said that developing alternative energy projects is critical for the nation's future. But the industry has relied on federal tax credits to survive, a point that Pickens underscored Thursday.

"I believe that Congress will recognize that it is critical not only to this project, but to renewable energy in this country, that they enact a long-term extension of the Production Tax Credits," Pickens said.

Tax credits of 2 cents per kilowatt hour are set to expire this December, said Christine Real de Azua, a spokeswoman for the American Wind Energy Association.

The credits expired in 1999, 2001 and 2003, Real de Azua said. Wind power installation dropped significantly in each following expiration of the credits, she said.