T. Boone Pickens who has a net worth of $2.5 billion and is ranked as the 131st wealthiest person in the United States by Forbes, is not prone to invest in pipe dreams. Then why is Pickens, who runs BP Capital Management, a private equity firm, and Mesa Power, building a 4,000-megawatt wind energy facility in Pampa, Texas, in the Panhandle section, which could cost as much as $10 billon?
In 2006, wind power facilities totaling 2,500 megawatts were built nationally, making them the second largest source of new generating capacity in the United States, according to Randall Swisher, executive director of the American Wind Energy Association. Pickens' wind-power facility would be 60 percent larger than all the wind power projects introduced in the United States in 2006.
Wind power, however, hasn't been considered an instant moneymaker or hasn't generated enough payback to warrant its major capital expenditures. Does Pickens, who is often one step ahead of the curve, know something that the rest of us don't? Is Pickens' 4,000-megawatt new facility a sign that wind power has come of age?
In its planning stages, Mesa Power hired leading consultants to investigate the cost effectiveness of wind power, conduct reviews of existing facilities and wind farms, and become acquainted with state-of-the-art generating equipment and transmission. After completing the research, Mesa Power concluded, "It was feasible, viable and profitable," said Mike Boswell, a vice president at BP Capital Management based in Dallas.
Currently, wind power provides about 2 percent of the power consumed in Texas, but Boswell expects that by 2020 it will furnish about 20 percent of Texas' energy needs. And Pickens will command a large slice of that market. Wind power "has become a much more important segment as the price of petroleum and natural gas has increased."
The genesis of the project springs from a previous water project in which Mesa Power agreed to deliver 200,000 acre-feet of water a year to the northeastern portion of Texas, explained Boswell. That same acreage will be used as the site for construction of the turbines. If the wind project reaches its full size, it will have 1,500 wind turbines, each generating from 1.5 to 3 megawatts of power.