Celebrating a Decade of Wind-Wildlife Collaboration

On November 28th, in St. Paul, Minnesota, Jamie spoke to a packed room at the American Wind Wildlife Institute’s tenth anniversary celebration. Her presentation, reprinted below, emphasized the imperative of rapidly building out wildlife-friendly wind energy development to minimize and mitigate the undeniable effects of climate change on wildlife, ecosystems and people. The evening program then turned to honoring luminaries and leaders in the wind-wildlife community — and we were delighted that Joy Page, our Director of Renewable Energy and Wildlife, was recognized among them. Jamie’s keynote speech followed a successful wind and bat workshop that Defenders co-hosted the day before. We have long been involved in promoting renewable energy development that avoids, minimizes and mitigates impacts on wildlife, important lands and natural resources.

I am really privileged to join you all this evening to honor ten years of collaboration and working together to ensure that wildlife and wind energy can coexist and indeed thrive together. When we started on this journey, we were embroiled in the controversy of Altamont, and lots of uncertainty about wind power’s future and its impacts on raptors and other wildlife.

Now, looking across this room, I am struck with how much we have accomplished, from important new policy direction to new technological advancements to build out wind energy resources without risking our natural heritage, and equally importantly, new and expanded relationships focused on a common goal. It truly is inspiring to see what collaboration can accomplish!

AWWI was born in 2008 launching an unprecedented collaboration among industry, conservation and scientific organizations. It started with 18-member organizations and has more than doubled in size since then.

Wind energy has also grown exponentially, from about 25,000 megawatts of installed capacity in 2008 to more than 90,000 megawatts today. In the last year alone, $11 billion in investments have brought 7,000 megawatts of clean, renewable wind energy online. Prices for wind energy have dropped significantly, from an average of about $65 per megawatt hour to under $20 per megawatt hour. Wind energy is affordable, it’s valuable — and it’s vitally important given the effects of climate change.

Firestorms have ravaged California neighborhoods. Hurricanes regularly raze the Gulf Coast. Arctic permafrost is melting. All while the current administration is doubling down on energy dominance in the fossil fuel industry and ignoring the benefits of renewable energy development.

Just last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its most stark warning yet, predicting a climate crisis as early as 2040 unless we take drastic actions. That’s right around the corner folks!!!! And the National Climate Assessment report released the day after Thanksgiving confirms what we already know: that the impacts of climate change are already taking a toll on people, infrastructure and natural resources around the country. The Assessment made painfully clear that the costs of ignoring climate change will overwhelmingly outweigh the costs of fighting it.

Not only are communities and neighborhoods feeling the effects of climate change, wildlife and their habitat are rapidly changing and disappearing every day. A severe drought in 2002 plunged the Sonoran pronghorn population from about 140 animals to just 19. High temperatures are decimating American pika in Utah and throughout the Rockies. Warmer ocean temperatures are destroying coral reefs. And the list goes on and on. And none of it is positive news.

Humanity is facing an almost overwhelming challenge in fighting climate change. Wildlife and habitats are being impacted from pole to pole and everywhere in between. Ecological conditions are changing faster than species can move or adapt, and we are seeing the impacts firsthand. The impacts of climate change are undeniable, and they are very real!

The IPCC report authors were unequivocally clear that the only hope for avoiding the worst of this damage requires transforming the world economy at a speed and scale that has — quote — “no documented historic precedent.” The middle range of the IPCC’s modeling shows that renewable energy sources will likely need to comprise 70 to 85 percent of electricity by 2050.

That is some seriously rapid build out — considering that only about 11 percent of U.S. energy consumption is fueled by renewable energy now. And while the authors conclude that it is technically possible to achieve the rapid changes required to avoid 2.7 degrees of warming, they also recognize that it will be an enormous societal and political challenge.

These are dire predictions and cause for serious reflection. I know it’s difficult not to feel frustrated or discouraged against the backdrop of our current politics. But there is no back-up plan. We can do this! We must do this! We simply DO NOT have a choice. Clean, renewable energy is the key to slowing climate change and saving biodiversity — saving ourselves. And this room is full of champions leading the fight.

Wildlife conservation and wind energy development are inextricably linked. The future of so many species depends on responsible wind energy buildout to mitigate the climate crisis. And the future of the wind industry depends on responsible siting and mitigation of wildlife impacts to reduce conflict, win public support, and achieve rapid and cost-effective wind energy deployment.

This interdependence between wind energy and wildlife is the heart and soul of AWWI. For the last 10 years, AWWI and its partners have been focused on ensuring that our nation transitions to clean energy in a way that protects wildlife and habitats. Together, we understand that America CAN achieve a clean energy future while protecting our rich wildlife legacy.

We have sure come a long way over the last decade. While our progress is real … and worthy of a happy dance, we all know significant challenges remain, from eagle permitting, to migratory bird conservation, to migratory tree-roosting bat populations. But I am confident that we can work together to meet those challenges.

This fall, AWEA and AWWI announced a new wind wildlife research fund, which could be a game changer for addressing priority wind-wildlife research questions. And two days ago, we co-hosted a successful meeting with NREL and industry where an impressive group of wildlife biologists, statisticians, and developers came together to share knowledge and confront threats to migratory tree-roosting bats. Collaboration and planning are making a real difference, … and we are building a clean energy future that protects and preserves wildlife and their habitat for future generations.

I’m sure that many of you, like me, are parents. We think about the future we’re leaving behind for our children and grandchildren. We have a moral, ethical and parental responsibility to our kids. The work we’re doing every day to build a bridge between clean, renewable wind energy and protections for wildlife and wild lands will be a part of our legacy.

Senator Tom Carper of Delaware often ends his talks with a profound African proverb, which feels very fitting for this evening — “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Here’s to how far we have come together. Here’s to AWWI leadership over the past 10 years, and here’s to how much farther we must and will go together in the future.

Because so goes nature, so goes us!

Thank you,
- Jamie