The Price They Pay

Ariel view of Morrow plant The latest Morrow plant is located in Garland, Texas. Photo courtesy of Luke Morrow.

Strong winds, flowing water, sun rays, earth’s warmth, and products of the earth – all are sources of energy that propose seemingly perfect solutions to so many problems, but at what cost? Renewable energy sources can be pushed as the possible answer to greenhouse gas emissions, but what price is being paid for this reduction?

“Renewable energy is one of the most effective ways to reduce emissions,” said Chris Moorman, a professor at North Carolina State’s College of Natural Resources, in a report titled, “Renewable Energy Poses Challenge for Wildlife Conservation,” released by the college. 

Environmental impacts caused by renewable energy development can vary by technology, land conversion and many other factors. 

According to the report, renewable energy requires more land than traditional fuel production. A projected 50 million acres of land is expected to be developed for energy production by the year 2035, with a majority being focused on renewable energy development.  Developing renewable energy infrastructures can fragment or eliminate surrounding wildlife habitats, cause behavioral changes in local species, and increase mortality according to Mooman. 

Moorman’s studies indicate wind turbines are linked to injuries and deaths of migratory birds and bats caused by collisions with the blades. Hydroelectric technology limits the migratory patterns of fish, resulting in limited breeding and increased juvenile mortality rates. Concentrated solar plants or solar plants of what is known as “power towers” produce intense sun beam reflections warm enough to incinerate insects and birds when crossing paths. 

Renewable energy is one of the most effective ways to reduce emissions.

Chris Moorman

Moorman noted the desirability to develop renewable energy projects and plants in areas with pre-existing development in which wildlife habitats and ecosystems are minimal or non-existent. In the U.S., from the state and federal government levels, there is no legislation dictating the placement of these renewable energy projects in relation to environmental conservation practices. 

According to the college’s report, current placement of renewable energy projects stems from land availability and price. Building in undeveloped areas allows for larger connected pieces of land to be devoted to these projects. This undeveloped land is also cheaper to purchase in comparison to already developed areas. While our emissions are decreasing, there is a bigger price being paid by our environments, ecosystems, and wildlife.