The Pickens Plan

Thanks for all the help from Inkstain readers – here, in private conversations and over on my Journal blog. My story on the Pickens plan is up. It’s by no means comprehensive, and I decided to zero in on two issues.

The need for transmission capacity to take advantage of wind resources. This is an issue of significant local interest here in New Mexico, and is one you’re likely to hear a lot about in coming years:

[T]he problem of wind in Eastern New Mexico offers a useful case study in the gap between available U.S. wind resources and our ability to use them.
Utility company PNM has a major transmission line running from the state’s east side into the Albuquerque metro area that is big enough to carry a rapidly growing base of wind generation being used to meet local needs.
But to export wind power would require far larger power lines, said Greg Miller, who manages PNM’s transmission system.
Developers have proposed far more wind power in eastern New Mexico than the current power lines could carry, Miller said.

The problem of scale associated with Pickens’ idea that we can shift natural gas to vehicles:

Kammen adds a common criticism of Pickens’ idea: that the second part of the Pickens Plan — shifting to natural gas to fuel our cars — is unrealistic without a large-scale natural gas vehicle fueling infrastructure in place.
Far more likely, said Kammen and others, is putting wind-generated electricity directly into our cars, in the form of battery-charged plug-in hybrids likely to begin appearing in the U.S. auto market in the next few years.
“The infrastructure costs are very high for natural gas fueling of cars,” Kammen said. Rather than building a new, large-scale natural gas infrastructure to fuel up cars, we should piggyback on the existing consumer electric grid to fuel our cars.

This has been a near universal criticism I’ve heard from the people who do large scale energy systems analysis. More over on the work blog on that point.


  1. Good article.

    I’m curious, though. Why don’t we hear about problems with transmission lines for other new power plants? For instance, the planned Desert Rock coal-fired power plant near Farmington would supply electricity to places like Las Vegas, not to Shiprock. Are the existing transmission lines (from the other two coal-fired plants) enough? (And weren’t transmission lines necessary when the other two plants, or the plant in Page, Arizona, were built? Or when the big dams on the Colorado or the Columbia were built?) Is the problem that wind power would be generated over a wider area – that there isn’t one concentrated power station? Or is it a problem of time – that it would be difficult to build all those transmission lines quickly?

  2. Kim –

    Good question. I don’t have a publication-quality answer, but I’ll run one down for you. I *think* that the siting decision for Desert Rock is based in part on its proximity to the existing power lines. This is very much like the first few major NM wind farms, and a few more than are in the pipeline, which are built in proximity to existing power lines, which do have the necessary capacity. The better analogy might be the hypothetical next coal plant *after* Desert Rock.

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