Can wind energy and wildlife coexist?

Can wind energy and wildlife coexist?
By Kylan Frye, Sara Stribley, and David Zippin
Jan 3, 2023

The most recent Wind Wildlife Research Meeting, organized by the Renewable Energy Wildlife Institute in November 2022, focused on the latest science in evaluating the risk of wind energy to wildlife. Stakeholders in the renewable energy sector, including ICF biologists and permitting specialists who support on- and offshore wind energy projects across the U.S., discussed how to develop solutions to avoid, minimize, and offset those impacts. 

Given the anticipated growth of wind energy over the next decade, it’s appropriate that those in the industry are focused on charting a path forward for wind energy in such a way that facilitates wildlife conservation.

In particular, how can wind energy facilities achieve conservation outcomes for wildlife while also supporting the Biden Administration’s ambitious climate goals, including: 

  1. Reduce economy-wide U.S. greenhouse gas pollution from 2005 by 50% by 2030
  2. Reach net-zero emissions economy-wide no later than 2050 

Accomplishing the administration’s goals will require development on public lands and increased decision-making support from federal agencies. As such, the Departments of Interior, Energy, and Commerce have collectively set a goal of installing 30 GW of wind energy by 2030 and Interior has set a goal of permitting 25 GW of on-shore renewable energy on public lands by 2025.

Protecting and conserving impacted species 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) within Interior is striving to extend their internal climate change mandate to the permitting and review of renewable energy projects while supporting the agency’s mission to protect and conserve species. There is recognition from the USFWS at the highest level that improvements are needed in the permitting and environmental review of renewable projects to facilitate renewable energy development in an expeditious manner. 

Relevant rulemaking from the USFWS includes the following:

  • Uplisting of the Northern Long-Eared Bat from threatened to endangered (published November 30, 2022, and effective January 30, 2023)
  • Final rule to list the Northern Distinct Population Segment of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken as threatened with Section 4(d) rule and the Southern Distinct Population Segment of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken as endangered (published November 24, 2022) 
  • Proposed endangered listing of Tri-colored Bat (published September 14, 2022)
  • Proposed changes for permits for Incidental Take of Eagles and Eagle Nests (initially published on September 30, 2022, and the Service has extended the public comment period for an additional 30 days, ending December 29, 2022) 
  • Anticipated Proposed Rule for Permits of Incidental Take of Migratory Birds to be published in early 2023 (currently in Office of Management and Budget review) 

Renewable energy development on federal public lands

In response to provisions in the Energy Act of 2020, The Department of Interior published a Memorandum of Understanding between five major agencies (the DOI, DOE, DoD, USDA, and EPA) to improve coordination of renewable energy development on federal public lands. The MOU focuses on identifying public lands appropriate for renewable energy development and conservation opportunities and increases staffing capacity at agencies, including providing Bureau of Land Management support to the USFWS for reviewing renewable energy projects. 

Upcoming rulemaking from the Department of Interior includes changes to regulations for wind, solar, and geothermal energy on public lands focusing on streamlining development opportunities and reducing rates for rental fees on public lands. Upcoming large scale land use planning includes updating identification of public lands for energy development and for conservation opportunities. 

Streamlining project review and agency coordination for renewable energy development on public lands is essential to meeting the administration’s climate goals. However, implementing streamlining at the field office level will be challenging without additional staff and clear mandates from agency leadership. Our permitting experts routinely use innovative tools and approaches to streamline the regulatory process and fast-track project permits—keeping projects moving ahead in full environmental and regulatory compliance.

Meet the authors
  1. Kylan Frye, Senior Conservation Biologist
  2. Sara Stribley, Senior Environmental Planner
  3. David Zippin, Senior Vice President and Practice Leader, Habitat Conservation Planning and Implementation

    David helps clients comply with state and federal endangered species regulations, with more than three decades of experience applying ecological science to environmental planning and regulatory compliance. View bio

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