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Pickens continues push for 'electric superhighway'

Nov 10, 2008 - James MacPherson - The Associated Press

Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens says he's picking up support in North Dakota and elsewhere for a nationwide "electric transmission superhighway" to help develop more power from the wind and sun.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said Monday that he will introduce legislation to build such a transmission network, similar to the interstate highway system championed by President Eisenhower.

Dorgan and Pickens spoke with reporters at the Great Plains Energy Expo and Showcase in Bismarck on Monday. Both called the current transmission system in the U.S. outdated and "pathetic," saying it stunts the development of solar and wind power technology.

Dorgan had no cost estimate for a nationwide transmission network or how it would be funded.

Pickens said he's heard estimates around $70 billion, which he said was a small cost considering the billions of dollars the U.S. pays annually for imported oil.

Pickens has been traveling the nation outlining his strategy for easing the U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

The so-called "Pickens Plan" aims to cut the country's dependence on foreign oil by putting up wind turbines to replace power produced from natural gas. That would leave more natural gas to power vehicles that now use gasoline and diesel.

It's the second time since August that Pickens has pitched his plan in North Dakota, which he said plays a big role in the nation's energy future.

"No. 1, it has wind," Pickens said. "No. 2, it has very good oil production."

Wind centers are being developed throughout North Dakota, and the state is home to oil-rich Bakken shale formation in western North Dakota.

Pickens, who is planning a 4,000-megawatt wind farm in the Texas Panhandle, said he is not involved in any wind farms in North Dakota. But he said he is an investor in Enid, Okla.-based Continental Resources Inc., the largest leaseholder in the Bakken and one of the first companies to successfully tap a well from it.

Pickens told The Associated Press that Dorgan is one of several U.S. senators backing at least parts of his plan. He believes President-elect Barack Obama will have a comprehensive energy plan in place within 100 days of taking office.

Pickens, 80, said he has spoken with nearly every president since Nixon on the need for energy independence. He said "cheap" foreign oil has always caused such proposals to languish.

"At my age, it may be my last chance to get out the message," he said.