Open Space And Clean Energy: Chatting With The Nature Conservancy’s Robert McDonald

It isn’t often you see green lovers butting heads over topics related to saving the planet. One area they do tend to do so though is around the placement of renewable energy projects, particularly wind energy farms. Wind power projects typically need a large amount of open space to operate, where a good number of wind turbines can be installed in a place optimal to wind generation. These spaces sometimes end up in environmentally sensitive areas which have issues related to wildlife management, environmental impact and just plain desire to keep open space clear of man made development.

One non-profit which seems to have a voice in this issue is The Nature Conservancy (TNC). We caught up last month via email with Robert McDonald, a scientist with TNC’s Conservation Strategies Division and an ecologist who studies how the growth of cities worldwide affects conservation planning. He has a lot to say about “energy sprawl” and even recently did a comprehensive article he collaborated on called Energy Sprawl or Energy Efficiency: Climate Policy Impacts on Natural Habitat for the United States of America.

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image courtesy of CleanTechnica

EarthTechling: One of the brewing issues in green versus green these days is renewable energy and open space. What is the position of the TNC on this?

Rob McDonald: Building more renewable energy capacity will be a vital part of the transition to a sustainable, zero-carbon way of producing and using energy, and The Nature Conservancy supports and advocates for more renewable energy capacity. At the same time, making renewable energy takes space, and the Conservancy strives through land-use planning to find appropriate places for new development. We think about this challenge using a framework we call “Development by Design”: First, avoid new development where possible (e.g., energy efficiency gains). Next, map out sensitive places on the landscape (e.g., sites with rare species) and avoid development in those key places. Third, allow development at appropriate sites but work to minimize the site impact. Fourth, if possible mitigate the impact that does occur with conservation actions at other sites (the analogy here is to wetland mitigation banking).

I am the editor-in-chief and founder for EarthTechling. This site is my desire to bring the world of green technology to consumers in a timely and informative matter. Prior to this my previous ventures have included a strong freelance writing career and time spent at Silicon Valley start ups.