Considering wildlife impacts in building the new energy economy
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.