Why a Bigger Grid is Good for the Planet – and Birds

Audubon is advocating for the rapid expansion of responsibly sited transmission.

In Colorado, my home, we are already living with the effects from climate change – from record flooding, early snowmelt and unheard-of winter wildfires.  These impacts have serious implications for communities as well as birds in the region like Lark Buntings and Mountain Chickadees. In fact, roughly half of bird species in Colorado are threatened with extinction if we don’t slow global temperature rise.  

Recent reports have warned that the effects of climate change will continue to intensify, and to avoid the worst impacts we need to quickly reduce carbon pollution. In the U.S., this includes building more wind and solar energy infrastructure and increasing transmission capacity to get that energy safely and effectively from high resource areas to population centers.  

That’s why Audubon released the Birds and Transmission report in August 2023—and why I joined the organization’s clean energy team earlier this year. 

Our commitment to advocate for responsibly sited clean energy and transmission infrastructure is central to reaching our climate goals. We know that any infrastructure can pose risks to birds and there is no such thing as impact-free energy development, but our report shares ways that developers can easily avoid, minimize, or offset those impacts. 

Here are some solutions for reducing transmission risks to birds:  

  • Avoid high conservation value lands, with special attention to migratory pathways, wildlife corridors, and areas important for species of high risk like prairie-chickens.  
  • Upgrade existing lines or expand within existing rights of way. This alone could meet up to half of all additional transmission needs. 
  • Increase line visibility through marking devices or illumination with UV lights that birds can readily detect. This method has been shown to reduce collision rates at Audubon’s Rowe Sanctuary in Nebraska. 

Investing in meaningful engagement with communities, especially from the outset, will help secure buy-in and reduce the increasing pushback that has stalled transmission projects. In our report, we were able to identify and map priority areas for birds that coincide with existing, planned, and potential transmission build-out. That way, Audubon and other stakeholders can strategically engage early and often with developers as projects are proposed and reviewed.   

It’s clear that to act on climate, we need to get transmission projects across the finish line sustainably and at the scale needed to meet the moment. As the build-out continues, Audubon will be a voice for birds and our planet, making sure that infrastructure includes science-based solutions so we can build the grid birds need.