Well, it's a start

T. Boone Pickens says between now and Election Day we're going to see his face on TV nearly as much as the presidential candidates.

In the months to come he'll draw on his considerable fortune for an ad campaign plumping his idea of how to cut U.S. dependence on foreign oil by 38% over the next decade.

The gist of it is this: Build a network of wind turbines stretching from Texas to the Dakotas to reduce the electrical grid's dependence on natural gas, and instead use more natural gas (in compressed form) to power cars and trucks.

If Pickens is as serious about putting his mug on TV as he says, he will definitely influence the debate, and probably for the better.  His input will be a vast improvement over the disingenuous and insipid "debate" we've seen so far from Washington — in which conservatives try to make the case that allowing drilling offshore and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will somehow bring back $2 gas within weeks, and liberals insist "we can't drill our way out of the problem" as if some magical government program will perfect solar-powered cars and jets before those offshore and Alaskan fields can be brought online.

At least Pickens might get people talking about the real issues.  All to the good.

Of course, the devil is in the details.  Aside from the obvious point that wind power and natural gas are two areas in which his BP Capital Management has a significant stake — and he'll have to address that during every interview he does on this subject — there are two rather thorny issues to be dealt with.

The first is who pays for all the new transmission lines these turbines will have to feed?  Pickens says he'll put up the money himself for the property he's set aside for turbines in the Texas panhandle, but what about elsewhere?  And for that matter, who will buy the property where the turbines will be built?  And no, existing federal lands won't cut it.  As much land as the federal government owns west of the 100th meridian, little of it [.pdf] is in the states where Pickens envisions this network of windmills.

And if that wasn't a big enough problem, there's issue number two:  Like oil, natural gas is a resource in decline.  U.S. production in particular has flatlined if not outright fallen during this decade, and Matt Simmons thinks there's a good case to be made that world supply has peaked as well.  U.S. usage during this decade has zoomed up as utilities found gas-fired power plants much easier to build (for a variety of reasons) than coal or nuclear.  So whether gas is used for power generation or transportation fuel, we're going to need more of it, and it'll have to be imported, be it piped in from Canada or liquefied and shipped in from overseas.  So much for reducing U.S. dependence on foreigners for our energy.

But hey, the Pickens plan is a start.  It's better than what the politicians are yakking about.  And if it gets more folks thinking about the real issues when it comes to energy, it might be a net plus.