The thrust of the Pickens Plan calls for building wind farms that will generate up to 22 percent of the nation's energy, the creation of a more efficient and expansive electrical grid, and using domestic natural gas instead of imported oil as a transportation fuel, focusing on fleet vehicles and 18-wheelers. In 10 years, says Pickens, the combination can reduce oil imports by a third.
At the moment, though, the much-heralded $10 billion wind farm in the Texas Panhandle is on hold until at least 2011 because Pickens can't get the financing together in the tightened credit market. Plus, Pickens's vision for natural gas, despite a recent bump in public support from lawmakers, still has at least as many opponents as allies and was all but left out of the $787 billion stimulus package President Barack Obama signed into law in mid-February.
Financially, 2008 has not been kind to Pickens. His Dallas-based energy hedge fund, BP Capital Management, has been criticized by many on Wall Street for maintaining a bullish view on the price of oil throughout the year. The financial-information company Bloomberg reported in February that the fund lost some 97 percent of its value during the last three months of 2008 and sold off its positions in all but nine of its previously held 26 energy companies. The fund was worth just $40 million, down from nearly $1.3 billion at the end of September. Even by Pickens's standards, that's a lot of green.
Critics say that the entire Pickens Plan is nothing more than a public-relations campaign driven by Pickens's ego, and warn not to mistake the veteran oilman for a tree-hugger. They say the fortune this neo-Greenie stands to make if he can get his wind farms and natural-gas interests up and running could earn him the kind of money traditionally seen only when an oil well explodes in a geyser of black gold. Pickens dismisses this by saying that at 80, he's got enough money and just wants to leave a positive, lasting energy legacy for America. Unlike in the past, Pickens, a longtime free-market man, is counting on the federal government, tax incentives, and subsidies to help make his dreams come true.
During his lectures, Pickens invariably rails against former U.S. presidents for not having an energy plan. Then he smoothly transitions to a story, told in the folksy style that Pickens easily employs, recounting advice his father gave him in the late 1940s when Pickens was a sophomore struggling at Oklahoma A&M, now Oklahoma State University:
"He said, 'Son, a fool with a plan can beat a genius with no plan. And I'm afraid that I have a fool with no plan.'"
It's a good bet you'll hear that passage again tonight if you attend Pickens' speech for San Francisco's Commonwealth Club: After all, the event is titled "A Fool With a Plan."