While renewable energy is essential for securing a low-carbon future, governments, developers of wind and solar power plants and banks need to cut the risks that such projects pose for biodiversity to a minimum, IUCN said in a new report, stressing undisturbed and protected areas must be preserved. For instance, burying power lines and temporarily shutting down wind turbines reduces the danger for birds and bats.
Habitat loss and fragmentation as well bird and bat collisions are the predominant impacts associated with renewable energy developments, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Biodiversity Consultancy and their partners warned in a new publication. ‘Mitigating biodiversity impacts associated with solar and wind energy development: Guidelines for project developers’ offers solutions to investors and other stakeholders for how to lower the risks of destroying or fragmenting wildlife habitat.
“Large-scale expansion of solar and wind energy is vital for a sustainable, low-carbon future. However, developers must take care to ensure that these technologies do not unwillingly pose risks to nature and livelihoods. These new guidelines provide much-needed advice on how to mitigate the potential impacts of wind and solar projects on biodiversity and local communities,” IUCN Director General Bruno Oberle stated.
Concentrating renewable power plants can impact habitats
Governments need to ensure risks to nature are identified as early as possible and take action to mitigate them, such as protecting undisturbed and protected areas, while financial institutions can attach similar safeguards to loans and investments, and energy companies should avoid, minimize and restore the impacts and then offset the remaining ones, the authors said.
Authors recommended to financial institutions to attach safeguards to loans and investments
The extraction of the raw materials needed for renewable energy technologies carries substantive biodiversity risks, according to the report. A large concentration of wind or solar farms in combination with other developments can increase habitat fragmentation and create barriers for species movement. The water demands of solar plants can put a strain on local water resources.
Species vulnerable to offshore wind developments include marine mammals – particularly when exposed to high noise during construction – sea turtles and some fish species. Mammals and sea turtles face risks of collision with associated vessels, while habitat alteration can affect species of the seafloor.
From bird diverters to artificial reefs
Authors recommend early avoidance and minimization through project planning and design, including identification of site alternatives,
design modifications and continual improvement.
Avoidance measures that are effective during project design include burying power lines or routing them to avoid sensitive areas such as wetlands or bird migration corridors. Marking transmission lines with bird diverters is now standard good practice and has been shown to significantly reduce the number of collisions, together with insulation, the report reads.
Stopping turbine blades from operating during low wind speeds provides a proven strategy to reduce bat collision risk at a minimal cost to energy generation
Measures to reduce collisions by making turbine blades more visible to birds are showing promising results but require further field testing. For bats, stopping turbine blades from operating during low wind speeds provides a proven strategy to reduce collision risk at a minimal cost to energy generation, the authors pointed out.
As for offshore wind, artificial reefs protecting the foundations of the turbines can enhance biodiversity and fish stocks. Other measures recommended in the guidelines include the use of technology that can temporarily shut down select wind turbines to protect birds and other species at particularly active times.
“BirdLife International insists on urgently reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, and that transitioning to a renewable energy–led future must ensure that technologies – such as wind and solar – have the right safeguards in place to avoid negative impacts on key areas of biodiversity and vulnerable species. The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity we have now to build back better should guarantee we don’t undo the progress we make on one hand with damage done by the other,” BirdLife International’s Chief Executive Officer Patricia Zurita said.