Billionaire T. Boone Pickens brought is traveling energy road show to the Salt Palace Convention Center on Thursday, and hundreds of Utahns came to hear what he had to say.
The oil tycoon and mega-successful hedge-fund manager promoted his strategies for alternative fuel development. The Pickens Plan urges Americans to break their reliance on foreign oil by using clean alternatives, including natural gas, wind, solar and nuclear power.
Pickens likened the fight to break the nation's dependence on oil to a war. "As far as energy is concerned, it's as critical as a war," he said.
His comments drew praise from some in the audience, and criticism from others.
"It seems like a realistic solution to our immediate needs," said Kevin Eberhart of Salt Lake City, who became aware of the Pickens Plan through television ads. "He seems like he's trying to help us."
Salt Lake resident Cannon Kanaphus said initially he was excited about the plan, but after learning more about it, he developed some reservations.
"Some of the things I've heard about water rights throughout the wind areas made me a little bit skeptical," he said. "I still support parts of it, like the generation of renewable energy. It's the future."
When Pickens was questioned by reporters after his speech, he denied having a financial motive for devising his plan.
However, his companies would benefit from the switch. He has extensive financial investments in natural gas and wind power. Last year, he announced he plans to build the world's largest wind farm, in Texas. This year, his Mesa Power LP ordered the turbines for the plant from General Electric.
In addition, his BP Capital is heavily invested in a variety of natural-gas companies. And he founded Clean Energy Fuels Corp., North America's largest provider of natural gas for vehicles.
"Everything I do, of course, I try to make money," he quipped. "Because when I make money I can employ people, and if I make money I have a high-class problem, which is paying taxes. I'm doing good if I'm paying taxes."
But Pickens said his energy plan is not just another way to make more money.
"Hell, I'm worth enough money. I don't need any more money," he said. "I see myself more as a pioneer out front doing this so people can follow and everybody can do well."
He said he has budgeted $58 million to finance the marketing of his energy plan, and he aims to increase awareness of the nation's energy problem and to promote patriotism through decreased energy dependence."I'm trying to explain what I know about the energy business and what we're all up against," he said.