Defenders of Wildlife is focused on building a sustainable clean energy future, where solar, wind and geothermal power plants (and the transmission lines that deliver their electricity to customers) are built in the right places and in ways that minimize the impact on wildlife and habitat. Below is a summary of renewable energy sources and how wildlife can be affected by them.
While solar panels on homes and businesses are becoming more popular around the country, we also need some large, utility-scale solar power plants to accelerate our transition away from fossil fuels. These projects can only be built in very dry, sunny places such as the American Southwest and they require large acreages of land to install the panels and mirrors that produce electricity. If built in the wrong places, these projects could destroy or fragment wildlife habitat, isolating and dividing small populations, reducing genetic diversity, and ultimately jeopardizing the species’ ability to survive.
Wind turbines, which are currently the largest source of clean energy in the United States, can harm wildlife in a number of ways. Direct collisions with wind turbines can kill or injure birds and bats. But, the turbines and other vertical structures, like transmission towers, can also become convenient perches for predator birds like hawks and eagles, causing grassland birds, like prairie chickens and sage grouse, to abandon traditional nesting sites and relocate to less suitable habitat.
The best geothermal resources are in areas in the west where mountain ranges produce geysers and hot springs, which can be used to generate renewable electricity. But some resources are deeper underground, closer to the Earth’s hot, molten core. These geothermal projects are often crisscrossed with pipelines carrying hot steam between wells and power generation facilities. Wild animals may change their migration and foraging patterns to avoid these areas and drilling activities can release poisonous substances like arsenic and mercury.
To tap these types of renewable energies, power plants have to be located at the sources (often in remote areas), and new power lines must then be built to deliver this energy back to the electric grid. If the transmission route is not carefully planned, it can fragment habitat, block wildlife movement corridors and pose a serious collision hazard for birds, particularly migratory species.
Roads and Infrastructure
All these types of projects involve building roads and structures to house machinery and equipment and require long periods of construction. This added infrastructure and disturbance can impact wildlife well into the future, disrupting the natural landscape and important wildlife habitats.