Audubon Saves Habitat Through Careful Energy Development Planning

Transmission Tower

Transmission tower

Audubon supports properly sited renewable energy, including the transmission lines that carry power to population centers. Working with industry and local, regional and federal decision-makers, Audubon provides important information on how best to avoid bird and wildlife impacts from renewable installations. Working with developers before the bulldozers move in can avoid lengthy battles and provide better outcomes for birds, wildlife and critical habitat.

Our work to promote properly sited transmission corridors helps to ensure that Important Bird Areas and other habitats critical for the survival of bird populations and migratory species are avoided.

Audubon's Eastern Transmission work tackles the densely populated east and mid-Atlantic parts of the country and the confusing alphabet soup of regionally-defined grids. An important new GIS-based planning tool is officially on the way to identify critical environmental areas and enable a more environmentally-friendly approach to energy development in the eastern United States. 

As a result of Audubon's efforts, the utility commissions of the 39-state eastern interconnection will tap Department of Energy's (DOE) national labs to build this important new planning tool over the next 1-2 years, to inform the siting of power generation and electric transmission facilities. A majority of utility commissions now lack ready access to such data, making smart front-end planning, and adequate analysis of environmental impacts, virtually impossible. This new decision support system will bridge that enormous gap and enable a more informed and balanced approach to energy planning.

Of equal importance, Audubon worked with utility commissions to assess where the greatest potential lies for deploying Smart Grid, demand response, energy efficiency, and distributed generation. This will be the first time that these no-build and low-build options are mapped out across the region, putting these non-traditional alternatives on even par with other approaches and reinforcing just how much opportunity lies in conservation. If executed well, this additional mapping promises to be a game changer for how our energy options are viewed when policymakers think about the need for grid buildout.;

In the months to come, Audubon will be working with the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and DOE's Argonne National Laboratory to help direct early steps in the development of the GIS-based planning tool for identifying environmentally sensitive areas. As part of the information needed to ensure minimal impacts to birds and wildlife, Important Bird Area (IBA) data from Audubon has been added to the mix.

As new decision tools are created for the east, it should be possible to have earlier, constructive, and more effective exchanges with planners so that energy facilities can avoid and minimize damage to ecologically important areas. With Audubon IBA data and no-build options in the mix, there is reason to hope that we will be better able to protect the many wild places critical to Audubon's mission.

Audubon's Western Transmission work is complex as well, as the world-class wind and solar potential of the west -- and the transmission lines needed to bring it to primarily the west coast --collide with flyways, Important Bird Areas, endangered species like Whooping Cranes, and species of concern like the sage-grouse. Audubon Wyoming's work on siting energy development projects in Wyoming to avoid sage-grouse habitat is the model for similar efforts in Colorado, New Mexico, Idaho and Arizona. The species and concerns may be different but the goals are the same: avoid or minimize impacts to birds, wildlife and habitat.

Here are the projects currently on the drawing board that Audubon is looking with with an eye to reducing impacts to wildlife and habitat.

 SunziaThe SunZia Project consists of two extra-high voltage electric transmission lines and substations that will transport primarily renewable energy from Arizona and New Mexico to customers and markets across the southwestern United States. 

The SunZia Project will provide access to renewable energy sources for distribution to energy consumers across the Desert Southwest.  SunZia's estimated total transmission capacity is 3,000 megawatts for two 500 kV AC lines, or 4,500 megawatts should a hybrid configuration of one 500 kV AC line and one 500 kV DC line be commercially justified.    


The length of the proposed route is approximately 460 miles.  For SunZia, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires alternative routes be evaluated in an environmental impact statement (EIS).  The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), along with several cooperating agencies, is leading the effort to develop an EIS for the SunZia Project.  A Draft EIS is expected to be available for public review and comment during the summer of 2011. 

Audubon has expressed concern that the proposed route for the SunZia transmission line will likely have negative effects on the migratory, wintering, and breeding bird populations that use the Socorro Valley. The Socorro Valley has been identified as the most critical landscape in the annual cycle of the Rocky Mountain Population of Sandhill Cranes (approx 20,000 annually in the population) due to the density of wintering birds in one location, the limited availability of foods (natural and wintering), and the small size of this wintering area.


Gateway West

This transmission Corridor starts just outside of Casper, Wyoming, swinging down through the southern part of the state and end in Boise, Idaho.  How it overlays with important sage-grouse and sage-dependent species, impacts to riparian areas, and other environmental considerations are all part of what Audubon is bringing to this project.


La Veta Pass through the San Luis Valley

This proposed transmission line project would cut through the extensive alpine valley in Colorado. The region supports a variety of wildlife, and of special concern are Sandhill Cranes and other species which migrate through the valley.