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Boone Pickens' Clean Energy Venture: Okay, But At What Cost?

Boone Pickens
Richard Drew
Boone Pickens

I spoke with Boone Pickens Tuesday as he launched Clean Energy's (CLNE) next venture at the Port of Long Beach in Southern California. The basic idea is to wean trucks and buses from diesel, and fuel them instead with liquid natural gas.

The state and federal government are willing to put money behind it because it's good for the environment. They say they'll spend hundreds of millions of dollars on what they are calling the San Pedro Bay Ports Clean Air Action Plan with the goal of cutting particulate matter pollution from all port sources by more than 50 percent within the next five years.

That's great. But what I care about is the cost. After all, it isn't a viable energy alternative if it costs more to use it, because then no one will use it (without government subsidies, also known as my tax dollars). Clean Energy says if you use natural gas in a vehicle, it costs 10-15 percent less to go the same distance versus gasoline. In fact, we spoke to some cab drivers here in New York who have natural gas taxis and they agreed, and some cases had even better luck.

The problem of course is the infrastructure. Clean Energy operates natural gas filling stations in California, Colorado, New Mexico, New York, Texas, Washington, Wyoming, British Columbia and Ontario, and a liquid natural gas plant in Willis, Texas. The focus is fleets of vehicles, not you and me. Their customers include Los Angeles International Airport, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, SuperShuttle, Foothill Transit, Waste Management, Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport, Sysco Foods, Denver International Airport and the U.S. Navy.

It's an interesting idea. Especially because, according to AAA, if you normalize a gallon of ethanol for how far it takes you versus a gallon of gas, E85 will cost you $3.12 per gallon. They peg a gallon of gas at $2.99 today. I'm not sure Americans love the environment 13 cents more per gallon.

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