794 Considering wildlife impacts in building the new energy economy

Wednesday, 26 January 2011
Justin Allegro, National Wildlife Federation, Washington, DC; and A. Staudt and R. Curry

Human-caused climate change has the potential to destabilize habitats and set back a century or more of wildlife conservation and other environmental achievements. The wildlife conservation community recognizes that a rapid transition from pollution-emitting fossil energy sources to clean renewable energy is essential for safeguarding habitats. At the same time, a careless rush to develop utility-scale renewable energy could result in avoidable, unmitigated, and irreversible impacts to wildlife. Additionally, uncertainty around the approach to habitat-friendly development could lead to unnecessary delays in the build-out of much-needed generation, as well as erosion of public support for renewable energy development. Our nation's energy history is rife with examples revealing the significant costs resulting from inadequate standards, including litigation, controversy and loss of public support – costs that are both unnecessary and avoidable at this time.

The possibility of additional encroachments on our nation's undeveloped land is especially worrisome because climate change itself will stress plant and animal species, putting a higher importance on large, connected natural lands that allow species to shift location in response to changing climatic conditions. Thus, it is critical to steer renewable energy development and associated transmission facilities to the most appropriate sites and minimize impacts of such development on wildlife. Important issues for consideration include: (1) development on public lands is needed for new wind and solar power facilities, yet stronger guidance is needed to improve the current governance of this development in order to better consider important wildlife habitat; and (2) an extensive new transmission network is necessary to connect new renewable energy generation to urban centers, which could cause significant habitat fragmentation.

This paper will review the current thinking of the conservation community about how to ensure that renewable energy is developed in a thoughtful manner that considers a reasonable range of alternatives and avoids or minimizes impacts to wildlife habitats. Examples will be provided of how: wildlife may be negatively impacted by wind and solar energy development; various factors about current and future environmental conditions could be considered when identifying locations for siting new facilities; interim and long-term policies can ensure that the administrative siting process safeguards sensitive habitats while also facilitating development of renewable resources; and reinvesting some revenues across the landscape can help ensure the cumulative effects of large solar and wind projects in sensitive places do not compound existing degradation and fragmentation caused by climate change.

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