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Renewable Power's Growth in Colorado Presages National Debate

These wind turbines are a part of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory Wind Farm near Boulder, Colo.
These wind turbines are a part of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory Wind Farm near Boulder, Colo. (By Jack Dempsey -- Associated Press)
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Colorado's growing political and economic commitment to renewables is causing fear in the oil and gas industry, which is fighting to keep its tax breaks and its influence over state rulemaking.

"We're not feeling very cherished," said Collins, whose oil and gas association represents more than 30 companies. The group objects to an initiative on the ballot in November; it would eliminate the industry's 87.5 percent property tax exemption, estimated to cost the state treasury $230 million to $320 million a year.

If the ballot rule passes, the tax money will be channeled to renewable fuels, wildlife conservation and education. The industry also objects to proposed rules that would require greater public health and environmental protection in areas where drilling takes place.

"It could have been done in a different way, and things wouldn't have gotten so heated," Collins said.

Alice Madden, the Democratic majority leader in the Colorado House, looks at the oil and gas industry today and recalls Xcel before the passage of Amendment 37. She has little sympathy for Collins's arguments, especially at a time when oil and gas profits are soaring.

"It's Chicken Little all over again: 'The sky is going to fall,' " said Madden, who also chairs Western Progress, an advocacy group. "The oil and gas companies see the writing on the wall, the shift to renewables. They want to make as much money as they can, right now."

Looking ahead, supporters of alternative fuels are counting on securing some advantages their fossil-fuel predecessors have enjoyed. One request is the renewal of a federal tax credit set to expire this year. Another, Prager said, is "some clear rules on the national level, especially on climate policy."

With 34,000 active gas wells in Colorado and 28 new permits issued each day, there is no chance that the oil and gas industry will fade away soon. And, as powerfully as the wind blows and the sun shines, the transmission grid for renewable energy is limited and the strength of the current is unsure.

"Unlike a coal plant or a gas plant," Prager said, "you can't flip a switch and make the wind blow."


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