New tool prevents conflict between wildlife and renewable energy. Here’s how

WWF-Canada has developed a new tool to build habitat protection into the renewable-energy development process, so that conflicts with wildlife can be prevented before significant investments are considered.

Renewables for Nature, an interactive digital tool, makes it easy to identify areas where renewable-energy potential is high and conflict with nature is comparatively low.

While the tool is most valuable for renewable energy planners, I invite you dive in. Where would you put a solar or wind farm?

A tidal turbine being lowered into the Bay of Fundy. © Cape Sharp Tidal

Why we need this tool
We witnessed a historic moment this week: Nova Scotia flipped a switch to allow the flow of electricity from an underwater turbine into the energy grid, proving it’s possible to harness the power of Bay of Fundy’s world-famous tides. This in-stream tidal demonstration project is now in the testing phase, with electricity flowing and scientists and fishermen watching carefully to measure effects on wildlife.

Widespread adoption of renewable energy from sources like this turbine is essential to slow climate change, a key threat to species and habitat the world over. In adopting green power, however, we risk harming the wildlife we seek to protect. A major wind project in Saskatchewan was halted recently out of concern for migratory birds. Others in Ontario were stalled to protect at-risk bat and turtle species. A small-scale hydro project in British Columbia is facing criticism for potential harms to the rare coastal giant salamander.

Across the country, stalled renewable energy projects show that a key piece of the clean-energy puzzle has been overlooked: The transition to renewable energy must be habitat friendly for the sake of all wildlife and the communities that depend upon them. The where Renewables for Nature comes in.

How it works
Users hone in on a region and select an energy type. The mapping tool reveals areas with high energy potential and whether they are in low, medium, high or critical conflict with conservation and community needs.
While it doesn’t preclude the need for environmental assessments and effects monitoring, Renewables for Nature gives a degree of certainty to commercial-scale development before significant investments are made.

We chose New Brunswick and neighbouring Bay of Fundy as the region in which to pilot this tool, which incorporates 75,000 individual pieces of data on more than 700 at-risk species, plus 35 datasets covering environmental attributes and related community uses. We overlaid it all with potential for six energy types (wind, offshore wind, solar, tidal, hydro and biomass).

The result: simultaneous mapping of renewable energy economic opportunity and environmental values for the first time in Canada.