On Tuesday night in his State of the Union speech, President Obama said that 2014 will be a “year of action.” We agree. By tackling climate change and implementing policies that help us develop responsible renewable energy, we can truly ensure that we preserve our important wildlife heritage for future generations.
The latest report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission states that renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, biomass, geothermal and hydropower, accounted for 37.16% of all new domestic electrical generating capacity installed during calendar-year 2013. The more than 5,200 megawatts of new renewable energy we installed last year will avoid an estimated 9.3 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel electricity—equivalent to taking almost 1.8 million passenger cars off the road each year! The continued growth of the renewable energy sector reduces our reliance on fossil fuels and is an essential component of reducing the future impacts of climate change. In the last two years alone, we have seen the following initiatives from the Obama administration to help reduce climate change and support renewable energy:
- March 2011—President Obama created a Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future, which put us on a path towards energy self-reliance and supported crucial research into innovative energy technologies, including in renewable energy, energy storage, and energy efficiency.
- March 2013—The President called on Congress to create an Energy Security Trust to use oil and gas revenues to fund breakthrough R&D for the development of clean energy transportation alternatives, an essential step to getting our cars and trucks off of fossil fuels.
- May and June 2013—Obama released two presidential memoranda on infrastructure and renewable energy transmission planning, directing his agencies to streamline permitting of priority projects while at the same time requiring that agencies develop policies and procedures to avoid, minimize, and mitigate environmental impacts from infrastructure development.
- June 2013—In his Climate Action Plan, the President directed the agencies to take substantial steps to cut energy use and increase renewable energy production, including permitting 20,000 MW of renewable energy on public lands by 2020 and directing that federal agencies get 20% of their electricity needs from renewables by 2020.
- January 2014—Energy Secretary Moniz and President Obama announced the creation of the Quadrennial Energy Review. Modeled after a similar Defense Department initiative of long standing, the QER brings together representatives from a broad swath of agencies and offices with jurisdiction over various parts of the energy regulation, production, siting and delivery process. The first QER review will focus on “America’s infrastructure for transmitting, storing and delivering energy,” acknowledging the nationwide need to improve our aging infrastructure. This will help us meet a variety of challenges, including resilience to climate change and the need to integrate renewable energy into the electric grid. The first report is due to the President in January 2015.
The solar industry association has responded to the exciting opportunities in the energy policy world by launching its own campaign to celebrate its 40th anniversary: “Shout Out for Solar,” taking place on January 24th. The wind industry association is also celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and has announced its support of the Quadrennial Energy Review plan.
How do all these high-level policy and industry initiatives affect Defenders’ day-to-day work? Defenders is leading the charge in taking advantage of these opportunities. We meet on a near-daily basis with members of the Administration at the White House, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, US Forest Service, and other agencies. We talk to decision makers to make certain that wildlife and conservation take their places front and center in the conversation about how our nation develops its renewable resources. We partner with companies, other conservation organizations and states to find areas of agreement so that we can advance policies and on-the-ground solutions for developing important renewable energy projects in a way that protects and preserves wildlife species and their habitats.
For example, the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service are working together to plan new transmission and infrastructure corridors that we need to bring renewable wind energy from gusty places like the Great Plains to big cities like Chicago and Seattle. We are working with them so that we fully understand the potential wildlife impacts from those corridors and that they are designated in the places where wildlife and natural resources will be least affected. We do not have to make a choice between wildlife and renewable energy. Our animals, plants, and landscapes are part of what makes our country unique. We must be certain that our renewable energy is planned in a way to help our wildlife adapt to climate change.
Building on the advances from 2013 is an important next step, and we are enthusiastic about our own “year of action” ahead. We look forward to taking advantage of all the opportunities that present themselves to ensure that renewable energy and wildlife stand together as priorities for the nation.
 Calculated using 2013 installed capacity figures from FERC, capacity factors following methods in NREL 2011 Renewable Energy Data Book, and greenhouse gas and car equivalencies using EPA’s Green Power Equivalency Calculator (nationwide average).
Eliza Cava is the Renewable Energy & Wildlife Conservation Associate and Julie Falkner is the Senior Director for Renewable Energy & Wildlife at Defenders of Wildlife.