Legendary oil man T. Boone Pickens details his plan to shift domestic natural gas from power pllants into the transportation fuel sector by increasing wind power production in the US. (Brian Brainerd, The Denver Post )

Legendary Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens compares America's reliance on foreign oil to a drug addiction and believes the cure will come in the form of wind farms and natural-gas-powered vehicles.

In Denver on Thursday to give a keynote speech at an oil-and-gas conference, Pickens detailed his plan to cut the country's oil imports by at least a third in 10 years.

He proposes a massive increase in the production of wind farms, building enough to supply 20 percent of the nation's electricity and replace natural gas as a primary generating source. Natural gas would instead be used as a transportation fuel, cutting demand for gasoline, a major byproduct of crude oil.

The lofty plan faces several obstacles, including the lack of transmission lines for new wind power and the availability of natural-gas vehicles and commercial stations to fuel them in the United States.

But Pickens, worth an estimated $3 billion, has pledged $58 million to promote the plan through the end of this year.

"The thing that has not happened in this country is we have not been pressed to do anything," said Pickens, 80, in an interview with The Denver Post. "The reason we haven't is there's always been cheap oil."

With the price of oil hovering around $140 a barrel and possibly on target to hit $200 next year, he said the time has come to make a move.

Colorado's wind-farm- friendly Eastern Plains and abundance of natural-gas reserves in the Piceance Basin on the Western Slope position the state well for the so-called Pickens Plan.

"Colorado has big wind farms in the eastern part of the state," Pickens said. "Colorado has a hell of a lot of gas."

Sporting a dark suit, gold tie and a dry sense of humor, Pickens is in the midst of a nationwide media blitz. The renowned corporate raider, who plans to build a 4,000 megawatt wind farm in Texas at a cost of up to $12 billion, said he didn't hatch the Pickens Plan for profit.

"I've got enough money," he said. "I

T. Boone Pickens talked in Denver on Thursday of increasing wind power to be a primary energy-generating source. (Brian Brainerd, The Denver Post )
don't need to make any more money — but I don't go into things to lose money."

He said the plan could cut the amount the country spends annually on foreign oil from $700 billion to $400 billion.

George Douglas, a spokesman for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, said Pickens' plan is "not impossible" but has to overcome several hurdles.

"The big challenge is manufacturing," Douglas said. "We don't have the manufacturing capacity in the country to build that many wind turbines."

Douglas said the proposal also needs transmission lines to carry power from wind farms, generally built in desolate areas, into neighborhoods.

The U.S. Department of Energy released a report in May that said the nation could reach 20 percent wind energy by 2030. Pickens wants to reach that goal before 2020 by adding 200,000 megawatts of wind power.

At the end of 2007, the U.S. had 16,818 megawatts of wind capacity, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Colorado ranked No. 6 with 1,067 megawatts.

One megawatt can power 300 homes.

Pickens' plan also faces the challenge of growing the use of natural-gas vehicles in America.

"It's not a direction auto manufacturers are investing a lot in," said Tim Jackson, president of the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association.

Pickens' spokesman, Jay Rosser, noted that even though there are only 140,000 natural-gas vehicles in America, 8 million exist worldwide.

Pickens said he hasn't discussed the proposal with presumptive presidential nominees Barack Obama and John McCain, but representatives from both camps have contacted him.

Andy Vuong: 303-954-1209 or avuong@denverpost.com