Could Conservative Denver Billionaire Become West’s Climate Hero?

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Photo: Philip Anschutz (AP Photo)
Philip Anschutz is a billionaire investor whose holdings include oil, real estate, and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Denver billionaire Phil Anschutz has made his fortune buying up everything from concert venues to railroads. He's also an oilman who supports conservative politicians, which is why some may be surprised to hear he is developing what will be the world's largest onshore wind farm -- if it's ever built.

Journalist Gabriel Kahn is a former Wall Street Journal editor and reporter. He writes about Anschutz's massive renewable energy project, set for a ranch in Wyoming, in the magazine "Pacific Standard." He spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner. Anschutz and the Power Company of Wyoming declined CPR News' request to be interviewed.

Kahn on what the ranch looks like now

"It's got these vast plains and these rocky bluffs that rise up out of them... I was just so struck by the lack of any human signs. There's some cattle fencing, there's a few MET poles, which is what these guys have put up to test the power of the wind, and there's some cows. But aside from that it's just sagebrush and some old country dirt roads...

"I think you'd really say this is the Saudi Arabia of wind. This is really some of the best wind resources in the continental U.S. It's stunning. It's really powerful."

On the scale of the proposed wind farmPhoto: Bill Miller, president of Power Company of Wyoming (AP Photo)

"We're talking about an amount of power that kind of boggles the mind. This will generate four times the amount of power that comes out of Hoover Dam. It would supply every household in Los Angeles and San Francisco combined with green power."

On the role of oil magnates like Anschutz in developing renewable energy sources in the U.S.

"The Anschutz folks will tell you that they're in this for one particular reason. They're in it to make money. And they see an opportunity. And I have to say that once you see the complexity of these projects, and the amount of capital that's required, and the amount of patience and determination involved, you kind of think that our best hope for a rapid development of the renewable energy industry is going to come from the oil patch. It's going to come from people who have the resources, and the experience, to get these big projects done. And they're only going to do it for one reason: They're going to do it for a profit motive.

"So it is a bit of an irony that a lot of the folks that have produced a lot of the carbon are now at the forefront of taking that out of our energy production... It's also creating a lot of strange bedfellows. There are some very, very serious folks in the environmental community who have become strong allies of this project."

On the divide among environmentalists over the wind farm project, which is proposed for land that's home to sage grouse and golden and bald eagles.

"In the environmental community you've got people who say, 'We can't do anything if it's going to cost the life of one eagle,' and others who say, 'Actually, the biggest threat to eagles and to sage grouse is climate change, which could reduce their habitat.' And that debate goes back and forth. And you've got a lot of people who feel that these projects shouldn't move forward even though they're going to produce a lot of green energy unless they can prove that there'll be no harm to eagles."