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Pickens sells wind belt plan today in Fargo

T. Boone Pickens went to Fargo Thursday to tout his plan for weaning the nation's gluttonous energy appetite off foreign oil.

The oil wildcatter turned wind farmer advocates using natural gas to fuel truck and bus transit fleets to replace oil, much of it from unfriendly foreign countries.

To do that, he wants to turn much of the Great Plains, from Texas to North Dakota, into wind farms - enough to generate 200,000 megawatts of electricity.

That, in turn, would divert much of the natural gas that now is used in generating electricity, said Pickens, who took time Wednesday between appearances to talk about the message he will bring to Fargo.

"Natural gas is a better transportation fuel than either gas or diesel," Pickens said, adding it burns with fewer emissions and is abundant in the U.S.

North Dakota alone, Pickens contends in his plan, has the potential to provide power for more than a quarter of the nation.

He advocates a wind corridor from the Texas panhandle to North Dakota that could produce a fifth of the nation's electricity at a cost of $1 trillion.

That domestic investment would be offset by a 38 percent reduction in consumption of foreign oil, he said, or a savings approaching $300 billion a year in money going overseas. The country's growing dependence on foreign oil costs $700 billion a year.

Pickens is pushing his plan in a whirlwind, multimillion-dollar publicity tour. On Wednesday, he spoke to audiences in Lincoln, Neb., and Rapid City, S.D.

So far, the oilman who famously has said the United States can't drill its way out of the energy crisis has struck a gusher in the well field of public opinion. He has drawn bipartisan support.

His town hall in Lincoln was filled, with many spectators standing in the back, Pickens said.

"Same thing in Iowa, same thing in Kansas," he said. "It's the same thing everywhere."

Some critics, however, have said Pickens' real motivation is to line his pockets. He said he has committed $10 billion to develop a mammoth 4,000-megawatt wind farm in the Texas panhandle, and some skeptics contend he plans to profit in energy hedge funds.

"I'm 80 years old, and I'm worth $3 billion," he said. "I don't need anymore money."

Pickens said his plan calls for extending the federal production tax credit for wind, at a cost of $15 billion. He hopes to have his proposal, which also calls for transmission infrastructure expansion, introduced early next year when a new president and new Congress take office.

"We want to be in the first 100 days," he said.

Gov. John Hoeven will introduce Pickens. Don Canton, the governor's policy adviser and communications chief, said Hoeven agrees with Pickens' approach of boosting renewable energy sources as part of the mix to meet energy needs.