Clean Energy, Free Rivers, Wild Lands: Considerations for a Sustainable Energy Future

ROOM: Atlantis, Grand Ballroom 5

8:20AM Framing the Problem: Shifting Scope and Scale for a Sustainable Energy Future
  Katie Kennedy
Clean energy development in response to global climate change promises solutions for sustaining fuel supplies and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, yet various sectors of renewable energy have consequences to natural resources. Direct conflict between energy production and ecological values is common if not inherent when assessing benefits and trade-offs of clean energy alternatives. For example, peaking hydropower operations provide economically viable power to customers but likely cause conditions impacting species and ecological communities; sometimes, energy development and operations can lead to local extirpation or species extinction. Project-by-project problem solving, where energy interests are pitted against ecological interests result in inefficiencies that compromise attainment of our broader energy, ecological, and climate goals. Some organizations and agencies are beginning to expand the scope of problem solving so attainment of these goals can be evaluated at broader scales, such as energy grids and species ranges. Spatial re-framing will require consideration of multiple energy sources – solar, wind, and hydropower, among others – as well as the multiple ecological and human values that are affected. This re-framing will allow organizations and agencies with limited resources to direct conservation efforts to places of greatest impact, and research efforts toward the biggest knowledge gaps.
8:40AM Can Wind and Solar Save Our Great Rivers?
  Joseph Kiesecker
Three years after the signings of the Paris Climate Accord, it is becoming clear that countries need to do more to facilitate implementation of their nationally determined contributions. Shifting energy generation towards renewable sources will need to be a central component. Hydropower makes the majority of current renewable energy electricity production, and while hydropower is a reliable renewable energy technology, it also has devastating impacts on freshwater systems, and livelihoods. Here, we will discuss the need to move beyond the single sector focus of basin level hydropower planning and assess the feasibility to “repower” energy systems by integrating low-impact wind and solar renewable energy. We will discuss results that illustrate that there is huge potential for low-impact wind and solar in areas with planned hydropower that could reduce damage to freshwater biodiversity. However, replacing hydropower energy with wind and solar is not a 1:1 ratio endeavor, and requires energy systems and grid planning to account for the temporal variability and lack of long-terms storage of wind and solar sources. The opportunities for alternatives to high impact hydropower underscores that need to move beyond modeling focused on hydropower and river basins and toward modeling that integrates grids, rivers and landscapes.
9:00AM Understanding Impacts across Energy Sectors – Blind Spots and New Opportunities
  Jay Diffendorfer
Understanding the impacts of different energy sources can inform decisions on energy policy and natural resource management. We present results from 2 studies focusing on impacts across energy sources. First, a global literature review shows biases among wildlife taxa, energy sources, and regions, and a lack of replication in studies of direct wildlife mortality for most energy sources. Second, an ongoing review of ~180 published studies that use indicators to compare environmental effects of different energy sources suggests many environmental effects have been analyzed across multiple sources, but they have frequently been interpreted and applied in ways that cannot be easily compared. This study also found an emphasis on applying indicators to renewable energy sources. Comprehensive analyses of the effects of energy development across sources will require efforts to standardize how energy impacts are measured, to expand the range of environmental effects captured, and to increase research on nonrenewable energy sources. We conclude by briefly covering major research gaps and opportunities that, if addressed, can result in more informed energy investments and management strategies that balance energy development with wildlife conservation.
09:40AM Break
1:10PM Sustainability of Environmental Flows and Hydropower Generation in the 21st Century
  Victor Engel
Undeveloped stream reaches and water storage behind existing dams represent approximately 77 GW of potential new hydropower generating capacity in the continental U.S. The costs and benefits of hydropower generation are changing however, due in part to the increasing percentage of energy demands met by wind and solar energy sources. Other market forces, an aging infrastructure, climate variability and environmental concerns will also impact the trajectory of hydropower development. Some indicators suggest the hydropower sector of the future may be increasingly characterized by a network of facilities that store excess (or inexpensive) energy, and which are able to quickly meet both peak energy demands and the supplemental base load production not met by variable wind and solar sources. This would present a distinct contrast to the “run-of-river” type of operations promoted through environmental policies in the 20th century, which may become less economically feasible where wind and solar sources are abundant. This talk will focus on the challenges faced by federal agencies managing the lands and aquatic resources where the transitions in renewable energy portfolios may be realized, and the opportunities for utilizing a landscape-scale approach to promoting the sustainability of instream flows for natural systems and renewable energy production.
1:30PM Future Projections of Wind Energy Deployment and Wildlife Impact Mitigation Scenarios
  Galen Maclaurin
Wind capacity in the United States has grown from 2.5 to over 96GW over 20 years, supplying over 6% of our electricity generation. Increased wind energy deployment could curb energy sector impacts in the areas of public health and the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, air pollutants and water consumption. Wind energy investments have supported domestic supply chain growth and created over 85,000 jobs in the wind industry and related fields. Over the next 30 years national wind capacity could grow to over 400GW, serving up to 35% of our national electrical power needs. While the economic and environmental benefits of wind energy are promising, we must consider the broader challenges and ramifications of its success. Increasing concern surrounding wildlife impacts from wind plant deployment has brought together the wind industry, conservation organizations, management agencies and researchers to develop responsible mitigation strategies. This presentation reports on scenarios of future wind energy projections and environmental benefits. It also highlights future wind energy considerations of land use and plant siting. Additionally, the talk explores potential wildlife impact mitigation strategies to reduce bat fatalities at wind facilities. Preliminary findings examine national-scale mitigation strategies, performance reduction assessments and cost implications.
1:50PM Prospective Offshore Renewable Energy Development in the Pacific Region: Identification of Key Issues and Research Needs
  Donna Schroeder
In order to fulfill its mission to responsibly manage the development of offshore renewable energy, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) conducts scientific studies to acquire information needed to identify areas suitable for wind energy leasing, and to assess and mitigate potential environmental impacts from authorized activities. Some of the challenges BOEM faces to implement a “landscape” level of planning include (1) identifying biodiversity hotspots in a submerged landscape that is largely unexplored, (2) cost-effective monitoring of impacts to affected species (especially those that range widely), (3) understanding cumulative impacts of multiple projects, and (4) coordinating and communicating with numerous regulatory agencies that have overlapping jurisdictions. Useful approaches to address these challenges include employing a variety of predictive models and new technologies to understand the distribution and abundance of species, forming partnerships to share knowledge and funding to enable world-class research and monitoring programs, and planning efforts that incorporate detailed spatial information across broad areas. BOEM-funded studies that illustrate these approaches will be highlighted in the presentation.
2:10PM Bioenergy Production – Overlooked Opportunity or Overlooked Challenge for Natural Resource Conservation?
  Susan Rupp
Concerns about the cost of energy and greenhouse gas emissions are bringing attention to bioenergy (i.e., heat, fuel, and power produced from organic material). Because first-generation biofuels (i.e., corn, soybeans) are crops also grown for food, concerns have been voiced about diverting food crops to fuel purposes. Second-generation biofuels (cellulosic fuels) are derived from non-food feedstocks such as fast-growing dedicated energy crops such as switchgrass and because they are not used for food, cellulosic fuels are thought to have fewer social concerns. However, native wildlife and other ecosystem services may be affected by increasing bioenergy development regardless of the feedstock used because the characteristics of ideal bioenergy crops can be in direct conflict with characteristics that make habitat attractive to wildlife. In addition, bioenergy crop production can raise concerns about agricultural intensification, invasiveness potential, feedstock location and geographic context within the landscape. Principles to reduce negative effects and enhance positive effects of bioenergy production on biodiversity include conserving priority biodiversity areas, including tradeoffs between environmental resources and energy production in management plans for feedstock production, and considering stakeholder values. Creative partnerships incorporating wildlife values and other ecosystem services into bioenergy production systems will be important as bioenergy development continues.
2:50PM Refreshment Break
3:20PM Negotiating Trade-Offs: Fish and Hydropower in the Colorado River
  Michael Runge
The Glen Canyon Dam generates an average 4.2 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 1.5 to 3.9 million tons compared to nonrenewable sources of energy. The construction and operation of the dam, however, have significantly changed the downstream ecosystem in the Colorado River, altering habitat of native fishes, like the endangered humpback chub (Gila cypha), and supporting the expansion of introduced sport fish, like rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). In addition, many other ecological, cultural, recreational, and spiritual resources are affected by the operation of the dam. In 2016, the Secretary of the Interior signed an Environmental Impact Statement that described a new long-term operational plan for Glen Canyon Dam, one that explicitly weighed the trade-offs among nearly two dozen resource goals. Development of the Long-term Experimental and Management Plan was aided by formal methods of multi-criteria decision analysis, allowing the decision makers and stakeholders to explicitly consider the effect of multiple objectives on the design and selection of a management strategy. This works shows how decision analysis can be used to find ways to sustainably produce renewable energy while considering the effects on fish and wildlife.
3:40PM Reconciling Nature Conservation and Renewable Energy Build out: Lessons from the Nevada Desert in US and Western Balkan Rivers in Europe
  John Zablocki
How to reconcile the dual goals of decarbonizing the economy by accelerating deployment of renewable energy with the need to conserve lands, waters, and ecosystems is a key challenge for conservationists to address in the 21st century. Addressing this challenge requires a holistic, system level examination of the relationship between energy systems and impacts to natural systems. This talk contextualizes this challenge by examining two case studies. The first is the Western Balkan region of Europe, where there is currently a boom in hydropower development in a region of intact and highly biodiverse river systems. The second is the southwestern US, where there is conflict between large scale solar/wind development and natural desert habitats. The talk will examine the roots of these conflicts, and identify new approaches for how address them on a practical level.
4:00PM The Desert Renewable Energy and Conservation Plan – Big Wins Concealed in California’s Largest Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan
  Scott Flint
The DRECP is a multi-species landscape plan that promotes the deployment of environmentally responsible renewable energy and ensures long term biological conservation in the California Deserts. In this discussion, we will explore the win-win benefits and trade offs in the plan for both renewable energy projects and species conservation. We will highlight important aspects of the social interactions around exploring, using and understanding the science based data that informed plan development and how it was used to communicate land allocation and conservation decisions for successful stakeholder engagement. The presenter will also discuss how the latest in cutting the edge project-level research was considered in the plan.
4:20PM Integrating Conservation Values into Pathways to 100% Clean Energy in California
  Dick Cameron
In support of ambitious climate goals, the State of California has established a target to have its electricity sector supplied by renewable or carbon-free energy by 2045. This will require rapid and large scale development of multiple sources of new energy generation, primarily solar and wind energy. We explore the cost and environmental trade-offs of alternatives to meet this ambitious target. Our scenario framework explores multiple levels of siting constraints due to environmental considerations within three geographic sourcing areas, in-state, in-state plus neighboring states with strong infrastructure ties, and a “full west” scenario including nine western states. We find that there are multiple pathways to achieving this clean energy target while avoiding significant ecosystem impacts. Yet, cost is sensitive to both geography and levels of siting constraint, particularly if generation can only be built in California. The portfolio mix of energy types is also sensitive to environmental considerations with a large increase in battery storage needed to offset possible declines associated with limitations on wind energy development. This assessment can be a model for linking conservation planning and long-range energy system modeling to characterize, and navigate, barriers to deep and rapid decarbonization.

Organizers: Elise Irwin, Michael Runge, Katie Kennedy, Mona Khalil

Location: Atlantis Hotel Date: October 1, 2019 Time: 8:20 am - 5:00 pm