Coexistence Is the Key to Our Wind Vision

03/12/2015 10:51 am ET | Updated May 12, 2015

Two years ago I was approached by some of my colleagues at the Department of Energy (DOE). They came to me with an ask. In order to project a vision for the future of clean, renewable wind energy in America, some serious advance work was needed. So they wanted to know: Would I be a part of the team that would draw up the blueprints for a comprehensive strategy to encourage and support responsible wind energy in our country? You bet I would.

So, alongside over 150 colleagues from across a wide spectrum of national research facilities, industry, other NGOs, academia and government, I buckled down and got to work. To help DOE complete this shared vision, we set out to answer key questions: Are there sufficient wind resources available to help us derive 20 percent of our national electricity production from wind by 2030? What are the technology requirements? Can industry scale up to reach this goal? If so, can the grid accommodate the goal? What would the labor force look like? Where would all of this wind energy be used? How much would it cost? As a group our aim was to examine whether we can substantially reduce America's carbon footprint by reaching the 20-percent wind benchmark without sacrificing our broader energy goals of reliability, affordability and reduced wildlife and environmental impacts.

Today the DOE released our findings. The answer? Yes, we can.

Making the Wind Vision a wind realization is central to the mission of my organization. You see, climate change currently presents one of the most significant threats to wildlife and their habitats, and we are already observing the effects of higher temperatures, rising sea levels, warming oceans, droughts and other changes. For this reason, the transition to clean energy in America is critical, and wind energy is a major part of that transition. As with all energy development, wind can adversely affect wildlife, whether through habitat destruction or direct collisions. So, as a representative from the conservation community, my goal in participating in the DOE's process was to ensure that the Wind Vision addressed the importance of simultaneously protecting and enhancing our nation's conservation legacy while working to reach 20-percent wind and curb the greenhouse gas pollution accelerating climate change.

In order to fully realize the benefits of wind energy, we must band together to see that the growth of the industry over the next several decades not only helps us meet clean energy goals but provides a stable set of guidelines and assurances for developers and, most importantly, minimizes impacts on wildlife and the environment in more ways than one. I firmly believe that we can achieve both our wind development and our wildlife conservation goals. Americans should not and do not have to choose between reducing our carbon footprint and protecting our country's precious wildlife and natural resources; we can have both if we plan smart from the start.

We have an obligation to leave our children and grandchildren not just a healthy atmosphere but thriving populations of wildlife and conserved landscapes. So, as we have attempted to do with the DOE Wind Vision, we must assess the impacts of potential wind energy goals and devise a roadmap that outlines the challenges in the path toward achieving those goals.

A key is to improve our understanding of the impacts of wind power on various species, understanding that can only be gained by more research. We lack important information necessary to help us know where and how to develop wind energy projects in a way that isn't going to be problematic for wildlife. And the more we know about potential impacts to wildlife, the more we are able to offset those impacts before and during the lifespan of wind projects. We are also in need of clear and sound regulatory processes that work better for both wildlife and for wind developers.

It has been my honor to be a part of the incredible, visionary team working to find ways to make our country and our planet a safer, healthier place for people and wildlife. Coexistence is critical. As we move forward, I will continue to seek solutions to the climate crisis that promote and facilitate responsible wind and renewable energy growth while employing proper safeguards to ensure wildlife-friendly development consistent with our country's conservation goals and commitment to our natural heritage.