Renewable Energy and Endangered Species

by Alexander Birk

As climate change continues to draw more attention, so does renewable energy. Creating completely clean energy to avoid emitting greenhouse gases seems like an unbeatable solution. However renewable energy projects often run into problems with the Endangered Species Act. Robbins (2014) claims that all renewable energy projects have one thing in common, they all destroy natural habitats and play a part in killing wildlife. (Robbins 2014)

Climate change has numerous negative effects on many species, so it is common for advocates of climate change mitigation, and of biodiversity work together. However one of the major paths for climate mitigation, renewable energy, poses an even more immediate threat to biodiversity than climate change. Many renewable energy projects would take up vast amounts of land and render them uninhabitable for their existing species. The immediate destruction of habitat creates a greater concern for biodiversity advocates than the gradual degradation of habitat caused by climate change.

Biodiversity advocates have a powerful piece of legislature supporting their cause, the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Using the ESA, entire renewable energy projects can be shut down once an endangered species is found on site. This creates a problem because the three major renewable energy sources in the United States are solar power, wind power, and hydro power; all of which take up a great amount of space, and significantly alter their surroundings. This makes it very easy to find an endangered species that may be affected by the project.

In order to move forward with renewable energy projects one suggestion is that the ESA needs to prioritize what species are the most crucial to protect. This option suggests that not all of the species can be saved so it is better to build renewable energy projects on land where less important species are present. However biodiversity advocates argue that all species are important and it is impossible to determine which one would be more expendable. This brings up the next option, translocation. Moving species to another habitat similar to their native one could be helpful, but it could also be harmful to the habitat to which they are moved, potentially causing new species already there to become endangered.

The conflict between biodiversity and climate regulation is something that needs to be given more attention. We need to be able to find a way for these two ideas can work together so we can move forward. The end goal for biodiversity protection includes inputting climate mitigation strategies for long term success. Thus it is reasonable to think that these two projects will be able to come together and create a solution that will make a better future.

Robbins, K., 2014. Responsible, renewable, and redesigned: how the renewable energy movement can make peace with the endangered species act. Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology, Forthcoming. 15:1, 555-583

1 thought on “Renewable Energy and Endangered Species

  1. I appreciate your argument that renewable energy projects destroy habitats, much like climate change, but more drastically. I first had this concern in the early 80s when I learned about baffles capturing energy from ocean waves. I wondered about their affect on oceanic life. More recently, I hear such arguments from people opposed to wind turbines in bird migration pathways. It reminds me of the controversy of the Alaska Pipeline barring wildlife migratory pathways.

    I am asking people to discuss solutions to climate change on my blog where I posted a short poem a few days ago. Will you consider joining the discussion?


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