Last week, the Biden administration announced an ambitious plan to make long-needed improvements and repairs to America’s infrastructure. Among those recommendations are robust commitments to expand renewable energy use across the country.
To address the enormous challenges of climate change, we need a vast increase in renewable energy sources, including wind and solar. This will take up a lot of space, unless planners and investors engage in “smart siting.”
The White House’s 25-page fact sheet on its plan said the administration will use “smart, coordinated infrastructure permitting to expedite federal decisions while prioritizing stakeholder engagement, community consultation, and maximizing equity, health, and environmental benefits.”
This one line leaves a lot of questions open about how to expand renewable energy, including how to do so while conserving land and protecting biodiversity.
Fortunately, we don’t need to prioritize action on climate over conservation. We believe we can meet the twin goals of addressing the climate crisis and conserving at least 30 percent of our lands, waters, and oceans by 2030 by including nature in the energy planning, siting and buying process.
While offshore wind and other renewables will play a significant role in the administration’s goal, onshore wind and solar expansion will still require a lot of land. The scale is significant. The Princeton Net Zero America report estimates a 228,000-square-mile footprint, greater than the states of Colorado and Wyoming combined.
But we cannot simply carve out a piece of land that large and call it a day. Some places should clearly be avoided when developing and siting renewable energy.
The wind farm in the middle of a scarce, intact, tallgrass prairie or the solar development surrounding a wildlife refuge on three sides are just two examples of poorly sited projects that can torpedo a project before it even starts. That is a bad outcome for customers, as