Tackling climate change is one of the most difficult and pressing tasks Mainers face, both personally and collectively. Maine’s lawmakers have set some ambitious goals for reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions and for procuring retail electricity sales from renewable energy sources.
This recent legislation is spurring interest and investment in renewable energy projects across the state. But the considerable climate-related benefits of renewable energy should not be diminished or negated by unnecessary harm to wildlife and habitat. In anticipation of this, Maine Audubon’s scientists have been working hard over the past year, studying current literature, talking to experts in the field, reviewing policies in neighboring states, and conducting a GIS analysis on the intersection of high-value wildlife resources and wind resources.
The culmination of this work, a comprehensive report titled Renewable Energy and Wildlife in Maine, was released on November 7. The report describes the vulnerability of Maine’s wildlife and habitats to climate change driven by fossil fuel emissions and advocates for swiftly, but thoughtfully, replacing fossil fuels used to generate electricity with renewable energy sources. The executive summary and the full 112-page report are available online at www.maineaudubon.org/energy.
“With the urgency to act comes a responsibility to act well,” say the authors of the report, Sarah Haggerty, Conservation Biologist and GIS Manager, and Sally Stockwell, Director of Conservation. “By including policy makers, energy executives, natural resources agencies, and the general public in straightforward discussions of both the urgency to act and the full range of available options, we can make smart energy planning the norm and protecting natural ecosystems the minimum standard.”
The report includes a look at the potential impacts of solar, onshore and offshore wind, and transmission line facilities on wildlife and habitat. It includes detailed policy considerations and recommendations on ways to site, construct, and operate projects with wildlife in mind.
A few highlights:
- Solar in built and disturbed environments has the fewest impacts on wildlife and habitat.
- Maine and other states need to work cooperatively and engage in long-term planning to reduce the prevalence of transmission lines, which fragment and otherwise impact wildlife and habitat.
- Where impacts are unavoidable, compensation must reflect harm to all impacted species and habitats.
- New technologies in terrestrial wind must be used to site projects that avoid impacts to wildlife and habitat.
- Maine must direct resources toward understanding how to capture the potential of offshore wind, while evaluating and minimizing impacts to wildlife.
Maine’s greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by at least 45% below the 1990 annual emissions level by 2030, and by 80% below the same level by 2050. The state is also committed to procuring 80% of retail electricity sales from renewable energy sources by 2030 and 100% by 2050, and to creating 375 megawatts of solar energy by 2024. Maine Audubon’s report concludes that Maine can thoughtfully develop projects that avoid, minimize, or compensate for wildlife and habitat impacts and achieve its renewable energy goals.
Renewable Energy and Wildlife in Maine: Avoiding, Minimizing, and Mitigating Impacts to Wildlife and Habitat from Solar, Wind, and Transmission Facilities was made possible by the Sally Mead Hands Foundation, the Horizon Foundation, and Maine Audubon members and generous supporters.