This Earth Day on April 22 comes at a time when the future of the energy industry is very much at a crossroads. The latest UN climate report says that as of right now we are not on track to meet our global commitments to reduce emissions, despite having the tools to do so at our disposal. Reducing emissions is critical to the survival of all species, including birds. Our 2019 study found that two-thirds of North American bird species are vulnerable to extinction if we allow global temperature levels to continue to rise at their current rates.
Renewable energy is a critical factor in addressing a changing climate and realizing a cleaner future, and offshore wind in particular is a quickly emerging industry. Constant coastal winds provide a powerful and reliable energy source, but must be planned carefully to avoid disruption to marine life. As an organization devoted to the protection of birds and the places they need to survive, we recognize that the number of birds we stand to lose if we fail to respond to climate change is staggering. At the same time, we are committed to ensuring that any new energy technology be implemented in a way that does the least harm.
That’s why it is more important than ever for conservation groups and renewable energy companies to work in partnership to ensure that any project – including offshore wind facilities – are constructed in a way that avoids, mitigates, and minimizes the impact to wildlife and communities. As part of Audubon’s Clean Energy Initiative team, my colleagues and I work every day to ensure just that.
Audubon’s position on renewable energy is simple: renewable energy like wind and PV solar is necessary for the future of birds and the future of our planet, but it must be built responsibly. To that end, we review projects for the impact that they have on wildlife, make recommendations for siting, and recommend new technologies and research to minimize negative interactions with wildlife and document impacts should they happen.
Here are some highlights from our work on offshore wind this year:
We worked with more than 20 organizations to create a guide for offshore wind companies to use as a reference when monitoring their projects for potential interference with wildlife. This includes monitoring any potential site before construction begins, during the construction, and once the facility is operational.
Audubon’s CEI team played a part in making recommendations for the development of the largest offshore wind project in the U.S., which was approved last year. Vineyard Wind, off the coast of Cape Cod, will conduct pre- and post-construction avian surveys, install radio telemetry receivers, and deploy radio transmitter backpacks for species of concern.
Audubon CEI team members helped developed recommendations to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to improve their avian survey guidelines for offshore wind projects.
This year we are committed to continuing our work on the following initiatives:
Advancing and adopting new technologies to better document potential impacts to birds, and to help developers and BOEM comply with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
As BOEM identifies more areas for leasing, we will be advocating for a more transparent process that considers impacts to birds and the environment from building offshore wind so new leases are defined in a way that avoids the most important areas for birds.
We will work with conservation groups and industry groups to create processes for identifying and implementing conservation measures by developers and regulators that can make birds more resilient to climate change and other population stressors, including offshore wind.
This is of course only a piece of the puzzle. In addition to transitioning our energy sector to clean sources, Audubon advocates to reduce barriers to rooftop and distributed solar, increase energy efficiency, and natural climate solutions that preserve and restore landscapes most important for birds and carbon sequestration.
Like any new developments, we recognize there can be unintended consequences for even well-intentioned projects to cause inadvertent harm. But with careful planning and coordination, we’re working to ensure a cleaner future for both birds and people that respects the land – and sea – that both communities and wildlife call home. This Earth Day, we recommit ourselves to that principle, and continue to invest in our planet.