Renewable Energy Wildlife Research Fund Announces 2024 Projects

Industry investments will enhance conservation and help decarbonize the energy sector

Today, the Renewable Energy Wildlife Research Fund, an industry-led initiative that supports independent, peer-reviewed research on wildlife interactions with renewable energy, is announcing four new projects for 2024. The Fund studies critical issues and implements cutting-edge projects and technologies that deliver meaningful results and help advance the clean energy transition.

“Since its creation 2018, the Fund has supported 21 priority research projects that enhance our understanding of the ways in which wind and solar projects may impact wildlife and habitat, so the twin imperatives of expanding clean energy and ensuring conservation are addressed,” said Allison Poe, Senior Environmental Manager at EDP Renewables.

The 2024 projects were selected after extensive review by independent experts and will explore:

The impact of utility-scale PV solar energy development on local biodiversity. It is hypothesized that these projects result in net biodiversity gains; if the research substantiates this, it will benefit solar energy developers by 1) providing more certainty in the permitting process, 2) potentially reducing monitoring requirements, and 3) providing baseline data on biodiversity outcomes to facilitate discussions surrounding biodiversity net gain.

Validation of optimized smart curtailment as an approach that reduces risk for bats. Smart curtailment of turbines is widely recognized as a viable option to reduce risk to bats, but the specifics surrounding its implementation can vary by project and species. This study will test algorithms that project operators can use to optimize the balance between conservation and the production of carbon-free power.

The effect of painting wind turbine blades. This study will replicate and considerably increase the scale of a proof-of-concept study. If shown to be effective at reducing fatality rates among birds, this approach could reduce production losses from curtailment as well as the cost of monitoring and other mitigation measures.

The effect of solar development on songbirds and pollinators in the Midwest. Do utility-scale solar facilities affect the diversity and abundance of bird and pollinator species on site? This study will compare established, vegetated utility-scale solar developments to the row crop agricultural environments in which they were constructed. One question it will attempt to answer is whether the same biodiversity benefits can be achieved using non-native but naturalized plant species instead of native plant species.

Research on several ongoing projects will continue in 2024; studies on the effects of insect feeding and turbine size on bird and bat fatality rates at wind projects have wrapped up and papers have been submitted for peer review, with the expectation that they will be published this year. A webinar presenting the results of these two projects was held for Fund members on March 1.

With the involvement of 28 companies and two trade organizations, the Fund benefits from broad industry support, and since its inception has raised more than $4.7 million to sponsor research addressing renewable energy and wildlife issues. The 2023-24 fundraising cycle was the most successful in the history of the Fund and resulted in REWRF Partners and Friends pledging over $1.3 million toward the above four projects.

“The Fund is a vital source of financial, technical, and scientific resources to advance important research. We are proud to support it and view our participation as an investment in solutions that will help decarbonize the energy sector while also achieving conservation goals,” said Adam Cernea Clark, Director of Permitting and Policy Strategy at Pattern Energy.

The Fund is managed by the Renewable Energy Wildlife Institute and steered by an Executive Committee led by Allison Poe (Chair), Jodie Eldridge, Director of Environmental Services at NextEra Energy (Vice Chair), and Adam Cernea Clark (Secretary).