As climate change affects our natural world including wildlife and their habitat, it is imperative that we accelerate toward a cleaner energy future as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While energy efficiency and energy conservation are an integral part of our clean energy future, so is development of new renewable energy sources, including wind and solar.
However, development of renewable energy sources must be done in a manner that also protects wildlife, the ecosystem and the resources we care about. When projects are not sited properly, conflicts can ensue delaying the project and hampering our ability to get more renewable projects on the ground. Furthermore, ill-sited projects can have significant negative impacts to wildlife and other vital resources. For example, if not sited and operated properly, wind energy facilities can harm sensitive birds and solar projects often require large swaths of lands that provide habitat to species important to the ecosystem and which often already face risks from other types of development.
We can have robust large-scale renewable energy development in this country while conserving our wildlife heritage and in fact the two depend on each other for their future.
Defenders of Wildlife is a conservation leader on ensuring we conserve wildlife from the deleterious impacts of climate change as well as the shorter-term impacts of utility scale development. Defenders believes all new utility-scale projects should be sited and operated “smart from the start.”
Smart from the Start planning ensures that renewable energy facilities are built in the right places that minimize the impact on wildlife and habitat. This approach:
- Encourages early planning at the landscape level to identify areas of low-conflict where development can be directed.
- Requires up front analysis of potential impacts of projects, including their cumulative impacts, and a robust analysis of alternatives to a project to determine the best option for development.
- Follows the “mitigation hierarchy” in which efforts should be made to first avoid and then minimize impacts to wildlife and important natural resources. Where unavoidable site-specific and regional wildlife impacts will occur, they must be offset by effective mitigation measures.
- Encourages early engagement by all stakeholders.
There are numerous benefits to following these principles during renewable energy development such as:
- Conservation of habitat for imperiled species and habitat connectivity for plants and animals facing the threat of climate change.
- Greater certainty and lower mitigation costs to protect natural resources.
- Lower cost of project development and cost-competitive energy. Greater public acceptance, faster permitting and reduced threat of litigation.
- Preservation of recreation opportunities for people to enjoy wild lands, parks, open spaces and natural areas.