PHOENIX – When billionaire oilman and investor T. Boone Pickens launched his plan this summer to boost the use of wind and natural gas to ease American dependence on foreign oil, gasoline prices were at a record $4.11 a gallon and oil prices were at $147 a barrel.
Now oil prices are at a 20-month low, falling to $59.33 a barrel on Tuesday, and gasoline prices have plummeted to below $2 a gallon in many parts of the country.
"I think I've done a pretty good job," he said, generating a laugh at the annual Edison Electric Institute convention of the nation's power executives.
Pickens acknowledged later at a news conference that there is more than one factor for the collapse of oil prices, including the slowing economy that many analysts say has gone into a recession.
Now with oil prices down, Pickens has said he has reduced what he planned to spend on his campaign — trimming spending to $40 million to $50 million from his initial plan of about $60 million.
He also said the collapse in natural gas prices has forced him to put his wind farm project for Texas on hold.
Pickens has leased hundreds of thousands of acres for a giant wind farm in West Texas, where he plans to erect 2,700 turbines and produce energy for urban areas such as Dallas and Fort Worth.
Historically, there is much less talk about turning to renewables when energy prices get low.
But Pickens said not to worry, oil prices will be heading back up and soon.
"I don't see any lower than it is today," he said.
He said that oil will be back to $100 a barrel within a year and that all other commodities will jump back up as well — making his plan more viable.
"Oil is not going to save us," he said of plans to increase drilling in the U.S.
Pickens' plan focuses on using natural gas as a transportation fuel and then counting on wind and solar to take the place of natural gas as a source to generate electricity. Natural gas currently generates about 20 percent of the electricity in the U.S.
He also touted coal, solar and nuclear power to help generate more energy and then for a transmission system that will bring the power generated by wind from the Midwest to other parts of the country.
He said if his plan is implemented, oil imports can drop 30 percent to 40 percent within three to five years.
"I see myself very much as a pioneer," he said. "I understand the problem and realize something has to be done."
Like other investors, Pickens has been hit hard by the collapse of stock prices. He said his hedge fund is down 62 percent since July.