United States

United States

United States: Pickens loses first mover advantage

Windpower Monthly US Editor Mesa Power, the wind power development subsidiary owned by oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens, has officially stalled plans to build a privately owned 240 kilometre electricity transmission line to connect its planned wind projects in Texas to the grid, says company attorney Monty Humble.

"The original idea was to achieve some degree of first mover advantage, but the capital market meltdown forced a delay in the project," says Humble. A delay last year in the passage of the wind industry's federal production tax credit also contributed. "By the time that got sorted out, there really wasn't much of an opportunity to have first mover advantage," says Humble.

The transmission line would have connected strong wind resources in the Robert County area of the Texas Panhandle with the Oakley Union substation near Wichita Falls, Texas. While the transmission line is stalled for now, Mesa Power remains hopeful it will bring wind projects in its development portfolio online using a combination of existing wires and new lines being built under the state's Competitive Renewable Energy Zone (CREZ) plan.

Humble says the Public Utilities Commission of Texas has done a good job keeping the CREZ process moving but adds: "Moving in the transmission world is not the same as moving in the project development world. It's like dog years and human years." Close to $5 billion has been allocated under CREZ to build a network of new lines that, alongside other generation, could accommodate as much as 10 GW of wind.

When the time is right to build, Mesa power will be ready, says Humble. "That will have to be decided by the sequencing of the CREZ docket. If they decide that lines get built fairly soon, then we go ahead and start looking at construction schedules." Mesa's development portfolio in the Texas Panhandle region, named Pampa Wind, after a nearby town, could be built out to 4 GW.

Back in May 2008, Mesa Power ordered 667 GE 1.5 MW wind turbines, the largest single order GE's wind business has received. The contract calls for delivery between 2010 and 2011. "We're working on those delivery schedules," says Humble. "The delivery schedule will be synchronized with our development schedule," he adds. "I think we'll be moving on projects in the very near term."

Pickens, who is chairman of hedge fund BP Capital Management, has become a public face for wind power in the US, having spent close to $50 million of his own money on an advertising and lobbying plan to redirect much of the nation's natural gas used in power generation to the transportation sector, with a big ramp-up in wind power filling in the gap.

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