Don’t be Shy: Alternative Energy Projects Still Have to Protect Wildlife

I saw an interesting article in yesterday's Chicago Tribune about an Endangered Species Act lawsuit challenging the construction of a wind farm in West Virginia.  The suit alleges that the project has violated the Act by failing to get a permit that addresses its possible impact on Indiana bat populations. 

Now, let me get some disclaimers out of the way: (1) I don't know a thing about this particular project and I have no view about the merits of the plaintiffs' claims here; and (2) yes, yes, wind energy is a good thing and we need quite a bit more of it -- particularly in West Virginia, where the alternative is often this.

Having said all that, what struck me about the article was the defensive crouch that environmentalists seem to feel the need to adopt when talking about wind and solar (in fact, my knees are little sore from the last paragraph).  Thus, when environmentalists challenge alternative energy projects, you often get quotes like this:

"We're not asking for a permanent halting of the project."

 And this:

"This case is not about halting, it's about mitigation."

The truth is that alternative energy projects can damage the environment, and we shouldn't be shy about saying so. Just because you generate the clean power doesn't mean you get a free pass from basic environmental standards.  Wind energy, for example, has a real and documented problem with bat mortality.

All of which is to say that where you site things like wind farms and solar arrays is really, really important.  That's one reason NRDC is working hard to identify places in the West where such projects should not be built.  It may well be true (in fact, I have no reason to think it's not true) that in the case discussed above mitigation is a perfectly good answer.  Sometimes it is about mitigation; but sometimes it's about saying no.