LASALLE COUNTY, Ill. — This week, The Nature Conservancy publicly released a first-of-its-kind analysis identifying the most promising places in the Central U.S. to develop wind energy that avoid conflicts with people and wildlife. The associated mapping tool, called Site Wind Right, is available online for power purchasers, utilities, companies, agencies, and municipalities in Illinois to help build new wind projects faster, with lower costs.
In Illinois, Site Wind Right mapping revealed 2,021,177 acres available for wind development, away from important habitat for wildlife such as the critical spaces for birds and bats near Starved Rock State Park. If those low-conflict acres were built out for wind development, it could generate 60.64 GW, equivalent to powering a city the size of Springfield.
The Central U.S. is known as the “wind-belt,” where nearly 80 percent of the country’s current and planned wind energy capacity exists. Conservancy scientists evaluated more than one hundred sources of data on wind, land use, and wildlife across these 17 states to detect places where conflicts between wind energy and wildlife are likely to be minimal. The results were both enlightening and encouraging.
“We are thrilled to discover we could generate more than 1,000 GW of wind power in the Central U.S., solely from new projects sited away from important wildlife areas,” said Michelle Carr, Director of The Nature Conservancy in Illinois. “That’s a lot of potential energy – comparable to total U.S. electric generation from all sources today. While advancements in transmission and storage will be needed to fully realize this wind energy potential, it proves we can have both clean power and the lands and wildlife we love. It’s a win-win.”
Wind projects sited in the wrong place can threaten some of our most treasured landscapes and wildlife. The Nature Conservancy estimates that renewable energy development could affect 76 million acres of land in the United States— an area about the size of Arizona. The good news is this study shows we can do it in a way that is good for nature, climate, and communities.
The potential of Site Wind Right to “de-risk” wind development has spurred the early endorsement of Evergy, a large Midwest energy provider in Kansas and Missouri.
“Site Wind Right is an invaluable resource that helps us avoid unnecessary impacts to the wildlife and iconic landscapes of the Great Plains, while also allowing us to provide clean, low-carbon energy for our customers,” said Terry Bassham, CEO for Evergy.
The study brought accolades from another early reviewer, the national Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, who awarded Site Wind Right their “Natural Resources” award.
Site Wind Right has also won support from the Audubon Society and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“We need more tools like this to speed-up our move away from burning fossil fuels. Well sited wind energy allows us to meet our climate goals, advances conservation, and ensures that we avoid irreversible environmental impacts,” said Katie Umekubo, a senior attorney at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council).
The Nature Conservancy is currently looking to broaden the analysis of Site Wind Right to include other forms of renewable energy, and other parts of the country.
“The Nature Conservancy supports the rapid acceleration of renewable energy development in the United States to help reduce climate pollution,” said Carr. “We are looking forward to providing Site Wind Right to the people making important decisions about Illinois’ clean energy future.”
About The Nature
The Nature Conservancy is a global environmental nonprofit working to create a world where nature and people thrive. Founded in 1951, and thanks to more than a million members and the dedicated efforts of our diverse staff including more than 400 scientists, The Nature Conservancy is one of the most effective and wide reaching environmental organizations in the world.