Does T. Boone Pickens have a bone to pick with San Jose?
It looks that way.
The billionaire oilman turned pitchman for alternative energy is the force behind Proposition 10, the initiative on the November ballot that calls for floating $5 billion in bonds to develop alternative energy. As it happens, he’d also profit from it.
Part of the proposal is to divvy up $200 million equally for demonstration projects in eight California cities: Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Long Beach, Irvine, Fresno, Oakland and Sacramento. Notice anything missing?
The campaign has no good explanation for leaving out San Jose, the capital of Silicon Valley, the state’s third largest city, the one with a Green Vision, the self-described center of clean tech. But our parochial snit is the least of the reasons to vote against Proposition 10.
It proposes to pay off the bonds using the state’s general fund – $10 billion over 30 years – primarily to underwrite the cost for individuals and businesses to buy low-emissions trucks and cars. That’s not a smart use of taxpayer money when the state’s already sagging with debt, struggling to balance its budget and short of money to build schools, roads, transit systems and water projects.
One-quarter of the bonds would go toward research, development and construction of solar, wind and other alternative sources of electricity. But $2.9 billion of the $5 billion in bonds – 58 percent – would be in rebates to owners of low-carbon emission vehicles, mainly those fueled by natural gas. Natural gas is at best a transitional fuel to run vehicles. Taxpayers would be paying the interest on bonds long after the cars that got rebates ended up in junkyards.
The rebates would include $2,000 for high mileage cars, like the Prius, even though buyers already are lining up to buy them, and up to $10,000 for natural-gas fueled cars and electric plug-in cars, assuming the car makers get enough of them out the door in time.
Most of the rebate money would go to owners of heavy-duty trucks that switch from diesel to natural gas. They’d receive between $25,000 and $50,000 per vehicle.
Pickens is the primary investor in Clean Energy Fuels, a publicly traded company that spent $3 million to put Proposition 10 on the ballot. The company is the nation’s largest provider of natural gas for transportation. Many of the natural gas vehicles would fill up at its stations.
Not to paint Pickens as craven. At age 80, he has become an apostle for alternative energy. He envisions weaning America from foreign oil by building huge wind-power farms in the Midwest and converting autos from gasoline power to natural gas (see his presentation at www.PickensPlan.com).
But even if his company’s profits didn’t complicate this proposal, it’s far from clear that Proposition 10 would be the highest octane use of $5 billion to reduce greenhouse gases and reliance on foreign oil. He never asked environmentalists and transportation experts for their views. Many would have said invest in energy conservation first.
Fiscal conservation must come first, too. Using your general fund tax dollars to subsidize your neighbor’s Tesla or Prius – or a fleet of natural gas vehicles – would be irresponsible. Vote no.
Mercury News Editorial
31 July 2008