Pickens Plan needs better pitchman

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I think it’s safe to say that most of us are ready to embrace clean energy, given that scientists assure us the likely alternative would be to smother in our own greenhouse.

That said, are you having as much trouble as I am embracing T. Boone Pickens as the poster boy of clean energy?

No disrespect to the 80-year-old Oklahoma oil buhzillionaire, but as revolutionary figureheads go, Che Guevara he ain’t.

When one thinks of a firebrand storming the gates of the status quo, typically the firebrand doesn’t own the gates. Nor does he storm them in an Escalade. With steer horns.

“Isn’t an oil guy selling air and gas a little like Donald Trump pitching poverty?”

If you missed his glory days, Pickens made his buhzillions by coaxing crude from the scorched earth of his birthplace, selling it to us at a Texas markup and buying out or attempting to buy out most of the competition.

His hedge fund firm, BP Capital Management, currently has a tidy $4 billion tucked in its saddlebags and its sights set on a wanderin’ star called wind power.

I watched T. Boone pitch his Pickens Plan on cable recently. It posits that if we plant turbines en masse out where they call the wind Mariah and convert our vehicles to natural gas, we can cut our foreign oil imports by one-third within a decade.

But when Pickens tries to reason with me flanked by those rolling fields of windmills, the image I get is not Che Guevera — it’s Don Quixote.

Throw in H. Ross Perot as Sancho Panza and Kay Bailey Hutchison as Dulcinea and I can almost dream an impossible dream, if I can get to sleep without sedation.

Bogus brand

We Americans love icons. Mad about brands. We don’t willingly buy generic anything, and haven’t at least since the Marlboro Man was in kiddie chaps.

You want to sell us on social change? Give us a face we can believe in. That’s how Smokey Bear prevented forest fires and Chief Don’t-Litter stopped bozos from throwing empty six-packs out the truck window.

But T. Boone for clean energy? I’m just not feeling it.

I’m all for natural gas and wind power if they can help pull our collective Jetta out of the jimson. I can even excuse the fact that T. Boone happens to own a natural gas company and likely has miles and miles of oil land on which to plant those quixotic wind machines he’s dreaming about.

Heck, his wife just purchased a buhzillion acres for wild horses. Turbines would give them something to barrel-race around.

When it comes to the Pickens Plan, the burr under my saddle is Pickens himself. I mean, isn’t an oil guy selling air and gas a little like Donald Trump pitching poverty? It’s downright uncomfortable.

Pickens has a habit of voluntarily drawing his own age card in interviews by noting that he can “see the finish line,” implying his motives are purely altruistic since he’s running on fumes already.

But from where I’m sitting, this self-evident remark sounds more like that classic salesman’s closer, “Does your vacuum cleaner get that deep-down dirt?”

Granted, we need all the clean-energy icons we can get right now. But shouldn’t they at least have a stake in the game beyond financial gain?

After all, Pickens approach strikes me as symptomatic of how we got lured into this box canyon in the first place. We allow reasonable-sounding hucksters to chip away at our common sense until oxymoronic notions such as “safe nuclear power” and “clean coal” no longer elicit howls of laughter.

I like to think that even old cowpokes like T. Boone can change. He’s done a lot of good by spreading his wealth around to charitable causes. He even seems sincere when he insists that we’re not going to drill our way out of this mess.

But he’s also one of the guys who got us into this mess. Who’s gonna believe him?

Veteran Bankrate contributing editor Jay MacDonald lives in Austin, Texas. If you have a comment or suggestion about this column, write to Bank Shots.