How Renewable Energy Will Dethrone the Powers That Be

What will America’s post-petroleum future look like? T. Boone Pickens, oil titan turned clean energy advocate, gives his take on the energy industry and where it’s headed in this excerpt from the new book “Power Trip.”

  • Power Trip book
    “Power Trip” offers a solutions-oriented look at the history and future of the United States’ energy addiction.
  • T Boone Pickens wind
    No area of our economy more vibrantly reflects American ingenuity today than the development of “clean technologies.” A portion of these energy sources is also commonly called “renewable” — those that are cyclically replenished by nature, such as wind and solar energy.

  • Power Trip book
  • T Boone Pickens wind

The following is an excerpt from Power Trip by award-winning environmental author Amanda Little (HarperCollins Publishers, 2009). As America struggles with full-blown oil addiction, Power Trip takes a look at how we got to this point, and focuses on the exciting solutions that are reshaping America’s economy, politics and cultural identity. Listen to Amanda discuss the book on MOTHER EARTH NEWS Radio . This excerpt is from Chapter 8, “Earth, Wind, and Fire: How Renewable Energy Will Dethrone the Powers That Be.”

After months of exploring the great successes and sobering realities of our energy past and present, I was ready — desperate even — to map what lies ahead. In his book The Beer Can by the Highway, John Kouwenhoven contemplates “what’s American about America,” and concludes that a “distinctive blend of technology and … democracy” is what makes this country unique. He writes that our “inventiveness, adaptability, and other qualities which tend to foster industrial productivity (and hence abundance) are directly traceable to drives inherent in the democratic ideal.”

In my journey through America’s highways, farmlands, military frontiers and drilling territories, I had witnessed this phenomenon again and again. I had seen how a combination of technological ingenuity and the American dream in people ranging from Croatian salt miners to Norwegian American farmers propelled our culture forward into the modern age, from Anthony Lucas’s Spindletop gusher to the breakthrough inventions of John Rockefeller, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, William Levitt, Earl Tupper, Malcolm McLean and Norman Borlaug.

I’d come to realize, moreover, that this was not solely a good thing. American ingenuity had consequences both greatly beneficial and perilous in the 20th century. It built our mechanized military, engineered our oversized cars, sprawled out our cities, invented our plastics, nourished our bumper crops, extended our supply chains across the globe, and connected the millions of miles of our electric grid. And along the way, it got us roundly hooked on fossil fuels. Just the same, American ingenuity may still have the power to reverse the negative consequences of our fossil fuel past and kick our costly habit.

I had a bullish sense of hope on this last point, and set out to explore the conviction more deeply. I wanted a firsthand glimpse of our emerging clean-energy landscape, where every kind of natural element — wind, sun, ocean tides, the warmth of the earth, even human exercise and sewage — can be transformed into electricity. No area of our economy more vibrantly reflects American ingenuity today than the development of “clean technologies,” a catchall phrase that refers to nonpolluting energy sources and the new generation of buildings, transportation systems and factories that will use them. (A portion of these energy sources is also commonly called “renewable” — those that are cyclically replenished by nature, not permanently lost when used as are fossil fuels.) It’s also true that a daunting range of obstacles could stall the development of these innovations and threaten their success — barriers I wanted to examine as well.

War Without Guns

My venture into America’s energy future began with a trip to a flat, dry and mostly barren town in the gusty prairies of west Texas that had become one of the leading frontiers of America’s clean energy development. The very same region of the country that offered up a seemingly limitless supply of oil in the days of Spindletop had been selected as the site for the world’s largest wind farm. In June 2007, billionaire investor T. Boone Pickens announced a $10 billion bet to build a 4,000-megawatt wind facility centered in the town of Pampa, Texas. I made arrangements in the summer of 2008 to travel west with Pickens from his Dallas office to Pampa, a few hundred miles away, where 200,000 acres of this massive wind experiment had been marked for construction.

Susan Beasley_3
2/8/2010 1:18:27 AM

Ms Bennett is right. He has been trying to renew interest in his project. He was going to do "emminent domain" on several land owners, trying also to get DFW to buy water from the panhandle. They said "NO". I'm glad he was shot down in this endeavor. He is an evil robber baron.

Kathleen Appelbaum
1/24/2010 9:37:20 AM

Believe it or not even a Republican can have a good idea. I think this is an idea whose time will come and soon. Whose pockets would you rather line Arabs or American 'robber barons'? How do you prefer to break our 'addiction to energy'? Give us your ideas.

Wilma Howe-Bennett_6
1/22/2010 3:16:38 PM

T. Boone Pickens, when told that A) He wasn't going to be allowed to imminent domain land corridors for his WATER COMPANY and B) Ditto on the wind power project, cancelled everything and went back to Oklahoma to pout. He also got his nose put out of joint when the power companies insisted that he pay for at least 1/2 the maintenance costs of the transmission lines after which the power companies would CONSIDER using his wind-generated power. He's a robber baron, never think that he isn't.

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