How much is energy independence going to cost us?

Managing Editor Lisa Towers says energy independence is going to cost us, but just how much?

By Lisa Towers, managing editor

The most contentious presidential election in recent memory is now over, and most Americans are breathing a collective sigh of relief. The attack ads might be off the air, but one campaign continues, with billionaire T. Boone Pickens at the helm. Peddling his plan for energy independence, Pickens and his Energy Army, as he has dubbed his followers, have already amassed about 1.3 million “signatures” on his online petition at www.PickensPlan.com. To date, 50 Congress members have signed on, and Pickens’ team is angling for as much support as they can get from common people like you and me, all the way up to our leaders on Capitol Hill. I signed up just to see what Pickens’ foot soldiers are up to in his battle for energy independence.

Meanwhile, we’re faced with some of the most depressing headlines since 9/11, and on par, some believe, with the devastation of the Great Depression. And Boone, as Pickens likes to refer to himself in the e-mails he sends to his Energy Army, is capitalizing on every hand grenade of a headline that rolls our way. The following is an excerpt from a recent Pickens missive:

“Last month, the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, predicted that ‘the American empire is reaching the end of the road.’ The world is facing a recession, money is getting incredibly tight and people are losing their jobs and wondering what tomorrow will bring. And what do we do? We keep sending our money to foreign countries to buy oil. We have to start using our own wind, solar and natural gas. And we need to start paying for it by keeping the money here at home instead of sending it to the Middle East and Africa. We're in a crack! A bad one! And it's getting worse by the day!”

Now, if you’re like me, you’ve watched Pickens’ campaign unfurl with curiosity and awe – he launched it back on July 8 and in about four short months has received a mountain of media attention. From “60 Minutes” to Forbes, Pickens is in full battle mode. His message is patriotic (SAVE US FROM FOREIGN OIL!), is timely and is just what we want to hear when unemployment is up, the stock market is down and our domestic auto manufacturers, not to mention some state governments, are looking for bailouts, AIG-style.

Pickens says if we simply invest in compressed natural gas, wind, solar and other alternatives to big oil, we can create jobs, be energy independent, and take some American currency out of OPEC’s pockets. It’s the perfect silver bullet.

Or does it sound too good to be true? A combination of corporate greed and government corruption has gotten us into this financial mess, so can we trust a Texas oilman and hedge fund manager to work with our fickle politicians get us out of it?

Americans by and large have adopted “green,” and you probably have already undertaken several energy-efficiency initiatives in your facility. In your civilian life, perhaps you are stacking the recycling bin higher than the garbage can, carpooling or composting food scraps. Auto industry reports say we’re snapping up hybrids as fast as they can manufacture them, but are we, as taxpayers, about to be taken for another ride?

By the time you read this, California voters will have made up their minds about Proposition 10, an initiative that would authorize the state to issue $5 billion in bonds to provide financial incentives to buy and develop compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles. CNG is the heart of the Pickens Plan, which he says is abundant in the United States and would be cheaper than our $4-per-gallon oil price spikes. And, the money stays in the country.

The problem is that some energy experts say that natural gas is the wrong direction to take the nation because it replaces one limited fossil fuel with another and — this is where our dollars come in — requires costly vehicle conversions and a new infrastructure. Pickens wants to start with conversions of fleets of trucks in the industrial realm.

Something has to change, that much we can all agree upon. But is this the right change?

On www.Push.PickensPlan.com, Pickens’ staff writes: “Our ultimate goal as a community is to force Congress to enact an Energy Independence Plan within the first 100 days of the new administration in 2009.” Force Congress? Do we get a say in this?

Pickens’ Clean Energy Fuels (www.cleanenergyfuels.com), a company that markets natural gas for vehicles, stands to profit from the passage of Proposition 10. There’s nothing wrong with a businessman making a profit from a company in which he’s made a significant investment. But in the interest of disclosure, he should be talking about what he’ll be doing with taxpayer money — and the land that his plan calls for the government to commandeer via the specter of eminent domain.

In a Fast Company interview, Boone's own words explain it all: “Money! First thing, it's about money.”

E-mail Managing Editor Lisa Towers at ltowers@putman.net.

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