An Overview of Renewable Energy and its Effects on Wildlife and the Environment

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Virginia Tech


As concern over greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from conventional fossil fuel sources rises, energy developers look toward renewable resources as prime candidates for “cleaner” and “greener” energy production. This paper provides an overview of the main environmental and wildlife effects of five of the major renewable energy sources: wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, and hydro. Examples of the effects of pollution, habitat degradation, land use, species mortality, and Endangered Species Act (ESA) listed species are discussed. Avoidance and mitigation suggestions are reviewed.

Before-after-control-impact assessments and habitat conservation plans can aid a developer in siting of a renewable energy project. The developer must weigh the economical and environmental costs of a project. Mitigation efforts should be made before construction, however, these efforts are not always clear and can be lost without proper enforcement. Early and continuous contact between developers and regulatory agencies can prevent increases in project time. Ignoring species and environmental protection guidelines up front can cause increased costs later on to mitigate the disturbances.

Areas lacking research and viable data are addressed. Additional research is needed on species located in energy-rich habitats, particularly for ESA-listed species and species that are believed to be strongly affected by the new development. Currently, plans for carbon-based energy production are duplicated and utilized for environmental and species conservation with regards to renewable energy. In order for wildlife and environmental specialists to effectively plan for renewable energy developments and perform effective mitigation efforts, additional rigorous studies will need to be conducted. These plans will need to be tailored to each renewable energy source in order for environmental planners to recognize the differences between them.