New Mexico is in an important position to generate and transmit power throughout the West, and reap the many benefits that come from its abundance of wind.
From the reduction in carbon emissions to the economic boost that our rural communities receive from new tax revenue and job creation, wind projects have the potential to positively impact nearly every facet of life. But, while the central and eastern portions of our state offer a clean and consistent resource, we are challenged by gaps in infrastructure and need to extend the grid to effectively deliver clean, reliable energy in the years to come.
With that need for transmission expansion comes an understandable hesitancy about change, and concern about potential impacts. In addition to its wind and sun, New Mexico also celebrates an abundance of diverse wildlife and unique ecosystems that may be impacted by development of our wind and sun resources if not done appropriately.
The fact is, renewable energy development and conservation of our wildlife heritage can coexist in New Mexico. And, what’s more, the two depend on each other for their futures.
We’d be remiss if we did not cover wind energy’s greater role in combating climate change, including the ability to generate electricity without carbon emissions, water use or emissions of other harmful pollutants.
However, if not sited or operated well, wind energy development can have negative impacts on wildlife and habitat. Thankfully, investments in research, as well as our understanding of wildlife and habitat impacts from wind development and transmission operations, are increasing, and data shows that wind projects rank near the bottom of the list of developments that negatively impact wildlife and the environment.
While our understanding of wildlife impacts has come a long way, we need to make sure our decision-makers prioritize the protection of wildlife first and foremost when considering new projects.
Current wildlife protections and protocols need to be implemented, and not just seen as mild hiccups that developers can work around. This includes proper planning, siting and operation of wind farms and equipment to avoid high-impact habitation or migratory areas; implementation of such new technologies as ultrasonic, acoustic or illuminating deterrents and other devices; and collaboration with local agencies and experts to comply with existing laws and continue investing in studies to better understand the risks and opportunities for improvement in their specific areas of operation.
Defenders of Wildlife has centered much of its focus on renewable energy solutions, for both generation and transmission, because it is an important solution to addressing climate change and protecting biodiversity.
While it remains essential that we continue to work together with renewable energy developers and operators to monitor and help mitigate potential threats to wildlife and the environment from wind energy, it is important to not lose focus on the bigger picture, which is how we mitigate the intensity of climate change.
By continuing to develop renewable energy sources responsibly and in a manner that thoughtfully considers wildlife, the ecosystems and resources we care about, effectively addressing climate change and protecting our future is a goal that’s within reach.
As Southwest program director, Bryan Bird directs efforts by Defenders of Wildlife to protect imperiled wildlife and their habitats across Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Ben Kelahan co-founded ReNew Mexico in 2019, promoting the power of local grassroots voices to fulfill the state’s potential to be a leader and model for other states with renewable energy goals.