“Habitat loss—due to destruction, fragmentation, or degradation of habitat—is the primary threat of the survival of wildlife in the United States.” (National Wildlife Federation, 2020)
Deep decarbonization by necessity means large volumes of solar and wind capacity to provide energy, either directly or indirectly through storage mechanisms. Solar and wind, however, require a lot of land. Solar on average needs approximately 5 acres per MW (Green Coast, 2019) while wind requires 0.75 acres per MW (Gaughan, 2018). Every solar or wind project will have to undergo rigorous environmental impact assessments, permitting and grid connection The more sites and land needed for renewable development, the greater the risk delays.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates renewable power capacity is set to expand by 50% between 2019 and 2024, led by solar PV. This increase of 1,200 GW is equivalent to the total installed power capacity of the United States today. Solar PV alone accounts for almost 60% of the expected growth, with onshore wind representing one-quarter. During this period, renewables are forecast to meet more than 70% of global electricity generation growth, led by solar PV and followed by wind, hydropower and bioenergy (Renewables 2018, International Energy Agency).
The IUCN believes “clean energy sources” like wind and solar can also impact biodiversity through disturbance and loss of habitat, the generation of noise pollution, collision and other indirect pressures. Therefore, despite the intrinsic and much-needed positive contribution of these renewable technologies to a clean energy future, renewable energy projects need to address the associated risks to biodiversity, throughout the entire project life-cycle — from design and permitting to the operational and decommissioning phases.