Solar Power and Birds

Responsibly sited solar power is one way to help combat climate change.

Audubon strongly supports properly sited photovoltaic solar power that avoids, minimizes, or mitigates impacts to birds and their habitat. As with all forms of renewable energy, we work with Congress and wildlife agencies to make sure that all projects are carried out in accordance with federal laws, like the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Solar energy is currently one of the fastest growing forms of energy. It’s economically competitive, and is flexible in the size and location of installations. It can power a single home or an entire neighborhood, and can be privately owned or service a whole community.

In all the deserved excitement about solar energy, it’s important to remember that not all solar works the same way, or has the same ecological benefit. That’s why we only support photovoltaic solar, which is probably what you picture when you think of solar power. It consists of shiny black panels facing the sun, capturing light, and converting it into electricity. The other form of solar energy --concentrated solar power (CSP)-- is too dangerous for birds.

Why does Audubon support properly sited solar power?

Our own science shows that unless we slow the rise of global temperatures, two-thirds of North America’s birds could face extinction. Renewable energy, like solar power, is key to reducing pollution and holding temperatures steady. This not only protects birds, but also communities that are vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which disproportionately includes communities of color.

There is currently an uptick in the use of solar, driven in part by increasing affordability. In 2008, installing a solar panel cost about $4 per watt. Today it costs 65 cents. The increase in solar energy production in California – 13,000 megawatts of energy powering 3.3 million homes – is helping drive a national trend.

Is photovoltaic energy safe for birds? As with most renewable energy sources, the benefits to birds by reducing carbon emissions outweigh other concerns, as long as the installations are built with care. Large solar installations must be properly sited to avoid disrupting bird habitat, and to minimize the chances that birds collide with the solar panels and associated infrastructure, like transmission lines and substations. Rooftop solar is ecologically ideal because it doesn’t disrupt any habitat, but rather makes use of already-built space that would otherwise not go to productive use.

Other Forms of Solar Power

Aside from photovoltaic solar, the other type of solar electricity generation is known as concentrated solar power (CSP). CSP takes two different forms: Concentrated Thermal and Power Tower technology. Power Towers use mirrors to concentrate solar rays onto a receiver to turn the solar energy into heat. The problem with concentrating so much solar energy into one place is that birds are attracted to the light beam and the mirrors, and the intense heat kills more birds than would be saved from avoided emissions. Because of this, Audubon remains opposed to any further construction of concentrated solar towers.

How does Audubon engage in this issue?

  • Audubon is a stakeholder on the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), which is focused on landscape-level planning for responsible renewable energy development and conservation in the California desert.
  • Audubon collaborates with the PV Solar Industry in the Avian Solar Work Group to facilitate research on birds’ interactions with PV solar panels, and what might be done to avoid harm.
  • Audubon has worked in the Columbia Plateau in Washington state to identify siting locations that present the least conflict to wildlife and communities.
  • We forcefully advocate for the enforcement of existing federal laws like the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that avoids, minimizes and mitigates any adverse effects on birds and their habitat.

Further Reading

Audubon’s Position on Solar Power: