Is the Pickens energy plan any good?

When an oil tycoon like T. Boone Pickens urges us to wean ourselves from foreign oil through natural gas and wind power, two energy sources he’s heavily invested in, says David Lazarus in the Los Angeles Times, “it’s hard not to smirk at his Texas-size gumption.” But he has some interesting ideas—using wind power to replace natural gas, then switching cars and trucks to use the freed-up natural gas—that he says could reduce oil imports by up to 38 percent a year. There are plenty of unanswered questions in Pickens’ plan, but he’s addressing a serious problem, and the fact that he could profit from it “shouldn’t necessarily deter us from trying” it out.

The huge public investment that would be required to implement his plan should give us pause, says Igor Greenwald in SmartMoney. The needed investment in infrastructure and other costs would make today’s $16 billion in federal energy subsidies “seem like chump change.” And after all that public money, there’s “there’s hardly any guarantee that these investments will pay off in a decade or two.” What is clear is that they would pay off for the “folksy octogenarian billionaire” Pickens. “He’s certainly entitled to his ideas, and to his eventual $10 billion investment in the largest U.S. wind farm,” but he shouldn’t be fattened at the “public trough.”

“At first blush,” Pickens’ plan “does seem to carry a whiff of hot air,” says Tom Bemis in MarketWatch. But given the lack of “any political leadership whatsoever on energy policies from Washington, Pickens’ ideas deserve a shot.” His plan requires swallowing some assumptions about wind power, sure, but give him credit for at least trying to find a way to make up for the natural gas he would divert to cars. And let’s face it, his way is “a lot more responsible than simply pulling ‘cheap’ subsidized corn out of the food chain and turning it into ethanol.”