Pickens, Home Depot Win in Senate’s Energy Measure

T. Boone Pickens
T. Boone Pickens, 81, started a $60 million promotion for a national energy plan that relies on domestically produced natural gas to cut U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

T. Boone Pickens, the billionaire energy hedge-fund manager, and Home Depot Inc., the largest U.S. home-improvement retailer, are winners in energy legislation that fails to help solar-panel and wind-turbine makers.

The measure proposed yesterday by Senate Democrats would give Pickens victory in his lobbying campaign for more use of natural gas, providing $3.8 billion in rebates for cars and trucks powered by the fuel. Home Depot would benefit from provisions to channel $5 billion in rebates to homeowners who upgrade to more efficient appliances or add insulation that reduces energy use.

The provisions were the main survivors among proposals to reshape U.S. energy use under the measure that would also set tougher rules for offshore drilling after BP Plc’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the worst in U.S. history. Absent from the measure were limits on carbon dioxide or requirements that utilities add solar and wind power to their portfolios.

“Boone’s been in the natural-gas business all his life,” Monty Humble, former senior vice president for Mesa Power LLP, a company founded by Pickens in 2007 to build wind farms, said in an interview. “As early as 1988, he advocated the use of natural gas in vehicles. This is consistent with what he was advocating.”

Pickens couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. In April, Humble joined Alston & Bird LLP’s legislative and public policy group in Washington.

Awash in Gas

The U.S. is “awash” in natural gas, thanks to new drilling techniques that make gas locked in shale formations cheaper to recover, Pickens told the House Ways and Means Committee on April 14.

“We are going to look like fools if we don’t use natural gas for transportation,” Pickens told the panel. “The only way we can solve the OPEC oil threat is by replacing their expensive, dirty fuel with cleaner, cheaper American natural gas.”

In October 2009, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat who drafted the Senate oil-spill response bill, called Pickens “a good friend and a real visionary.”

The Senate bill would offer rebates to people who buy gas-powered cars or trucks or convert conventional vehicles to gas. It also would give grants of as much as $50,000 to companies that put natural gas refueling stations into service between 2011 and 2015.

A House version of the bill doesn’t include the natural gas or energy efficiency provisions. Both measures could be brought to the floor as soon as this week.

Rebates for Insulation

The Senate bill would offer rebates of as much as $8,000 to homeowners who retrofit with energy-efficient insulation, windows and heating and cooling equipment. The Home Star program to cut energy use from appliances and air conditioners would create as many as 168,000 jobs over the next two years, according to the Alliance to Save Energy, a Washington-based group the promotes energy efficiency.

“While we are disappointed at the limited scope of the overall bill introduced today, Home Star is a creative solution to the energy and economic problems facing our country,” alliance president Kateri Callahan said in a statement.

The Home Star program would extend federal tax credits from last year’s stimulus bill that expire at the end of 2010, according to Stephen Holmes, a spokesman for Atlanta-based Home Depot.

Popular at Home Depot

“The previous incentive programs have been extremely popular with our customers,” Holmes said in an interview. “Homeowners get cost savings on energy bills, tax rebates and environmental benefits, and it would create more jobs for contractors.”

Pleas from environmental groups and renewable energy manufacturers that the Senate bill include limits on emissions that contribute to global warming or a renewable energy requirement for utilities were rejected after Reid said there weren’t enough votes for the climate provisions.

“The U.S. wind industry is in distress,” Denise Bode, chief executive officer of the Washington-based American Wind Energy Association, said in a statement. A renewable standard “is a critical component to ensure the U.S. wind industry thrives.”

U.S. wind-power additions in the first six months of 2010 fell 70 percent from a year earlier, according to Bode. Developers added 1,239 megawatts in the first half, down from 4,000 megawatts in the same period of 2009.

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