Wind Energy And Wildlife Can Play Nice

The recurring catch 22 for clean energy development is the potential impact it has on the surrounding environment. This issue has sparked a  “Green Vs. Green” phenomenon between entities that are both working to improve the environment, but have differences in opinion on how to go about doing it. We’ve seen plenty of this issue lately, particularly in southern California as several massive, federally backed solar complexes get built on previously untouched BLM land. In those cases, environmental groups and local tribes have levied lawsuits pointing out the harm that such building projects have on the plant and animal life in the area both in the short-term during building and the long-term as the power plants continue operation. The Nature Conservancy believes it has developed a plan that will keep renewable energy projects-in this case wind energy-from negatively affecting plants and wildlife.

In a recent statement, the Nature Conservancy announced a study titled “Win-Win for Wind and Wildlife: A Vision to Facilitate Sustainable Development” The study outlines an approach that recommends siting wind energy on lands already impacted by human activity like agriculture and oil or gas development. It suggests an efficient use of land necessary to meet the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) vision of producing 20% of U.S. electricity generation from wind by 2030.

Birds and Wind Turbines

image via Nature Conservancy

The statement claims that more than 12 million acres of land – an area roughly the size of the state of Florida – and 11,000 miles of transmission lines are needed to make the DOE’s wind power goal a reality. It also suggests the areas considered to have highest potential for wind power generation are in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain West on landscapes that also happen to provide critical migration corridors for species like the endangered Whooping Crane, and habitats for at-risk wildlife, including the Sage Grouse and Greater Prairie Chicken.

The study suggests, instead, the use of both already disturbed and undisturbed land in 19 different states that have the potential to exceed DoE wind energy targets while avoiding the use of an estimated 2.3 million hectares of undisturbed lands.