Last December, Texas governor Rick Perry, speaking at a Houston fundraiser, sadly noted how President George W. Bush had lost his way in Washington, D.C. His good friend had compromised his principles and left the nation in a lurch, however unintentionally.
But then the governor launched into his Texas-is-great stump speech that included kudos to windpower, a new large industry (no) thanks to a legislative mandate requiring that Texas electricity retailers purchase qualifying renewable energy. (Wind is the most economical of the qualifiers.) The 1999 mandate, enacted with the crucial help of Enron lobbyists, was increased in 2002 with a powerful wind lobby at work. And so at the point of a gun, Texas became the leading windpower state in the country, passing California along the way.
So it was not surprising that last Saturday night Gov. Perry handed T. Boone Pickens the 2009 Texan of the Year Award at a ceremony in New Braunfels, a town of 50,000 in the Texas Hill Country.
Perry called Pickens “a Texas legend of almost untold stature” with an energy plan of global significance. The governor explained:
The energy plan he laid out … could change the world forever. That’s the type of vision, that’s the type of innovation, that’s the type of leader that the world need’s right now.
President Obama (Boone is “a legendary entrepreneur“) or Carl Pope of the Sierra Club (“ To put it plainly, T. Boone Pickens is out to save America“) could not have said it better. John Holdren, too, would have approved Rick’s message.
But T. Boone’s windpower “vision” is about a displaced, obsolete energy of the past, not an energy of the future. Take away the mandates and the the tax subsidies, and windpower will fall like a house of cards. And thinking ahead, just who will pay for the cost of dismantling the wind turbines, someday?
So here we have a major businessman and a major Republican governor turned completely sideways on energy and free-market principles. Does capitalism need enemies?
Boone Pickens destroyed the company he build up–Mesa Petroleum–earlier in his career. He was extremely fortunate in his commodity price bets as an oil speculator, making billions of dollars, but his good luck seems to have run thin, as he has lost one or two billion dollars more recently. PickensPlan I has been defeated by real world event, and PickensPlan II is on life support. Indeed, T. Boone is a strange and sad case of a capitalist against capitalism.
The virus of T. Boone Pickens that has been caught by Gov. Perry can be traced back to Enron, the company that was behind the Texas renewable mandate that set the table for T. Boone’s promiscuous energy ideas. And it was then-governor George W. Bush who signed the bill that was so favorable to Enron in erms of renewable energy and power trading.
The egos of three men–Ken Lay, Pickens, and Perry–are intertwined when it comes to the siren song of windpower. All let their ambitions and egos get the best of them. They played political cards for short-term gain and fame.
Needless to say, a new kind of leader in corporate America and in government is needed. May a new generation arise.