Since T. Boone Pickens unveiled his sweeping plan Tuesday designed to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, more than 170,000 people have visited his website to learn more about the proposal and some are encouraging him to enter politics and become the nation’s energy czar, he said Thursday.

The legendary oilman traveled to Denver to address the Rocky Mountain Energy Epicenter, which is sponsored by the Colorado Oil & Gas Association and the Rocky Mountain Section of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. Flanked by staff, Pickens spent nearly an hour answering questions about the Pickens Plan, which he introduced earlier in the week in New York City.

The Pickens Plan, which Pickens said could reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil by more than one-third within 10 years, would involve three steps:

The response to his energy proposal has been overwhelming, Pickens said during a press conference.

“There’s been an enthusiastic response to what we are trying to accomplish,” Pickens said. Since the proposal was introduced on CNBC two days ago, the website to explain the plan has gotten 170,000 hits from individual users, he said.

Pickens, who said he was tired of complaining, developed his energy plan and then started talking to politicians and colleagues. He traveled to the White House eight weeks ago to lay out his ideas. But failing to get the response he wanted, Pickens ponied up $58 million of his own money to barnstorm the country and speak to anyone who would listen. The millions he’s set aside are for this year alone — he’s buying television and print advertising and using the Internet, all to great effect, he said.

“This has been a pitiful case of leadership,” said Pickens, a Republican. “The American people do not understand energy…and they are not getting the truth.”

Since laying out his suggestions, the Pickens Plan website has seen a “grassroots” revival, said Pickens. He recounted the story of a Georgia man who, after hearing about the proposal, called a “town meeting” at an Applebee’s restaurant in Dalton, GA. Forty-six people showed up at the restaurant to talk about the plan. More people are coming up to him every day, he said.

“We know the situation,” Pickens said. “People know something’s wrong.”

With U.S. oil production in decline, the energy industry has embraced some of Pickens’ ideas. Pickens recently met with Chesapeake Energy Corp. CEO Aubrey McClendon, who suggested that $10 billion should be spent to retrofit about 25,000 gasoline stations across the country so that they could support natural gas.

“Aubrey’s a smart man; he knows what he’s talking about,” said Pickens. McClendon, he said, is interested in using natural gas to solve the energy crisis, and that is where the two men have slightly different ideas. Pickens, who believes natural gas should have a much bigger stake in the transport fuel market, is one of the country’s biggest wind developers. But he said he’s for anything that solves the U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

“Whatever it takes to get us off our addiction to foreign oil, I’m all for,” he said. “If someone else has a better plan, let’s hear it…If they think they know what they’re talking about, let’s hear it.”

Pickens is open to suggestions.

“If it’s the OCS [Outer Continental Shelf], let’s go,” he said. “If it’s renewables, I’m in the business. If we’re making it, we’re not importing oil…I’ve committed a lot of my money to this, but I’m only one guy…I’m an oilman. I don’t have all the answers. In fact, if someone else has a better idea, I’m all for it.” He’s for anything produced in the United States. “The thing to do is figure it out here.”

And what about liquefied natural gas (LNG)? Pickens at one time was working on a proposal to bring LNG to California markets. He’s not as enthusiastic a proponent any longer.

“We’ll never reach the level [of imports] that was predicted,” he said. “We’re in a global market. I don’t believe that it will happen here.” He said markets closer to where LNG is produced likely will take most of the shipments. LNG could play a role as a bridge fuel while fuel alternatives are developed over the coming years, but Pickens said in the long run, he doesn’t think there will be a big U.S. market.

Two people Pickens has yet to hear from about the Pickens Plan are presumptive presidential nominees Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL) and John McCain (R-AZ).

“This is a bipartisan issue,” Pickens said. What he’d like to do is sit down with both Obama and McCain — “just the three of us talking about this.” In any case, Pickens believes either of them should put the energy crisis ahead of all other issues when he takes office in January of next year. “I’m for anybody that can solve this.”

When asked what he thinks about being named the country’s energy czar — a suggestion made by more than one politician last week — Pickens demurred.

“I’m not a politician,” he said. “I have no interest in that. And I have a proposal but I don’t have the answers.” Whoever is tapped to solve U.S. dependence on foreign oil should be told that it “takes persistence, tools, and be told to take the hill.”

Ramping up wind power quickly on a large scale is feasible if the government enacts the correct policies, starting with renewal of the production tax credit for wind power, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

“In order to make this happen, however, the U.S. government will need to play its part and enact short- and long-term policies to transform many of our current practices,” said AWEA Executive Director Randall Swisher. “Of critical and immediate importance is an extension of the federal production tax credit so that the industry can move ahead with planned investments and keep people at work. Of equal importance will be longer-term policies to plan for more transmission to bring large amounts of wind power from windy areas to population centers.”

In May the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) issued a technical report that concluded that wind power is capable of becoming a major contributor to America’s electricity supply by 2030 and most of the necessary tools to make that happen are already in place. In order to hit the 20% target, installations of new wind capacity would have to increase to more than 16,000 MW annually by 2019 and continue at that rate through 2030. According to the report, the central obstacles to achieving that goal — transmission, siting, manufacturing and technology — can be overcome. Growing wind to 20% of the nation’s energy mix would cost about 2% more than the cost of a baseline scenario without wind, an increase of about 50 cents a month for the average ratepayer, according to the report.

A study released last month by GE Energy Financial Services concluded that the added tax revenues generated by new wind energy development eclipses the federal tax breaks that expire at the end of the year and are generating a loud debate in Congress. The study concluded that tax revenues from wind projects more than offset the government’s costs for the tax breaks.

President Bush in his February 2006 State of the Union speech unveiled an energy initiative that included plans to boost research for wind energy and spur the development of solar power. Earlier this year the president laid out a plan to stop the growth of heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions in the United States by 2025. The plan included a single, expanded incentives program to spur commercialization of new, lower-emission technologies, including those used to generate wind power.

Last year Pickens’ Mesa Power filed documents with the ERCOT for a 4,000 MW wind farm, which could cost upwards of $6 billion and would be the world’s largest. The project could have as many as 2,700 turbines on up to 200,000 acres in Roberts and adjacent counties in the Texas Panhandle. The project has an in-service date of late 2011.

Pickens — the largest single investor in a natural gas supplier to heavy vehicle fleets of buses, trash trucks and airport shuttles called Clean Energy — said last year that more nuclear generation plants are the future of the electricity sector and natural gas should be targeted for use as a vehicle fuel (see NGI, May 7, 2007).

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