Responsible, Renewable, and Redesigned: How the Renewable Energy Movement Can Make Peace with the Endangered Species Act

30 Pages Posted: 7 Aug 2013 Last revised: 17 May 2014

Kalyani Robbins

Florida International University (FIU) - College of Law

Date Written: 2014

Abstract

One of the most promising routes to a sustainable energy future, as well as climate change mitigation, is the development of renewable energy sources such as wind, solar energy, and hydropower. Indeed, scientists have proposed plans to move completely (100 percent!) to these energy sources within a couple of decades. Mark Z. Jacobson and M.A. Delucchi, scientists from Stanford and U.C. Davis, have outlined a plan to achieve this goal, thereby “eliminating all fossil fuels”. Hydroelectric power already provides almost one-fifth of the world's electricity, and wind and solar development is rapidly picking up as well. However, before we leave our worries behind and celebrate, we must resolve one potentially difficult issue for renewable energy, especially these three favored brands. They conflict with another important goal, that of protecting biodiversity.

Wind, solar, and hydro energy all have one thing in common: they destroy habitat as well as directly kill wildlife, including listed endangered species and their habitat. Can these problems be reconciled with the movement toward renewable energy, allowing us to partake of its many benefits? At least for now, we regularly see renewable energy progress impeded by the need for Endangered Species Act compliance. The ESA has presented itself as a potentially catastrophic obstacle to renewable energy development. The time has come to think about how we might maximize our access to renewable energy while minimizing its impacts on vulnerable species.

This Essay will first review the existing conflicts between endangered species and these three sources of renewable energy. This will be followed by analysis of the potential for harmonizing each energy source with the dictates of the Endangered Species Act, concluding with specific proposals for redesigning our methods of harvesting these forms of renewable energy. As one example, innovators have designed impressive new wind-harvesting technologies that are less dangerous to birds and bats without sacrificing efficiency. I propose that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service incorporate a preference for wildlife-protective technologies into the regional incidental take permitting requirements, at least for certain higher-risk landscapes. The ultimate goal of the piece is to analyze the extent to which it is possible to use each form of renewable energy without significant ecosystem impacts, to generate somewhat of a ranking of preferred modes of development, and to seek the best path (in relation to wildlife) to a renewable energy future. Such a future is itself essential to biodiversity, so the interests must be harmonized.

Keywords: renewable energy, wind, solar, hydropower, endangered species, ESA

Suggested Citation

Robbins, Kalyani, Responsible, Renewable, and Redesigned: How the Renewable Energy Movement Can Make Peace with the Endangered Species Act (2014). Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2306845

Kalyani Robbins (Contact Author)

Florida International University (FIU) - College of Law ( email )

11200 SW 8th Street
RDB Hall 1097
Miami, FL 33199
United States

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