KAHRIN DEINES Associated Press Writer HELENA (AP)
Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens appeared with Montana's governor Friday to pitch his plan for decreasing the nation's dependence on foreign oil, a strategy that could give windy states like Montana a key role. Speaking at an energy conference for leaders in business and education, Pickens said oil prices are destined to return to painful highs within the year, pumping renewed urgency into efforts for energy independence. "We have no control over our energy destiny in this country unless we take control," Pickens told his audience. Pickens' plan, released last July, calls for offsetting half of the nation's foreign oil demand with natural gas and wind energy, a task he contends could be accomplished within ten years, given the right subsidies. "The natural gas will be the bridge to the next generation of fuels," Pickens said. In September, Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer signed what is known as the Pickens Pledge, demanding an end to America's addiction to foreign oil. Pickens said he has gathered about 2,200 such pledges from Montanans and 1.5 million total. Schweitzer is pushing for new transmission lines in Montana that could carry energy from wind farms in the heartland to high-demand centers on the coasts. A high voltage, direct current line that could carry up to 3000 megawatts of power is currently proposed for the state. Albertabased TransCanada Corp., the developer, has said the line could be in operation by 2014. "Montana is dead center in the most important energy corridor on the planet," Schweitzer said in his introductory remarks for Pickens. Wind is a ready resource that has prompted as many as 50 wind projects at various stages of development in the state. Pickens contends such wind energy could meet 22 percent of the nation's energy needs, the amount currently met by natural gas. Then, in his plan, natural gas supplies would be freed up to fuel transportation. "I'm for anything stamped American," the 80-year-old billionaire conservative activist said. In particular, Pickens has set a goal of converting 350,000 of the nation's large cargo trucks from diesel to natural gas within the next five years. To spur the transition, he said, would cost about $80,000 per vehicle or about $28 billion. Current ly no money i s marked for converting large trucks to natural gas as Pickens proposes. But wind-energy development is expected to receive a jolt from the federal stimulus package, which contains about $11 billion in funding for new transmission lines and $60 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy companies. Last year, 126 megawatts worth of wind power were captured in Montana, bringing the total to 271 megawatts. "Montana is going to lead the rest of the country to energy independence and it means we're going to lead this country out of recession," Schweitzer said at Friday's presentation.