BIRDS AND TRANSMISSION: BUILDING THE GRID BIRDS NEED

Brooke L Bateman, Gary Moody, Jennifer Fuller, Lotem Taylor, Nat Seavy, Joanna Grand, Jon Belak, Garry George, Chad Wilsey, and Sarah Rose. (2023) Audubon's Birds and Transmission Report: Building the Grid Birds Need. National Audubon Society: New York

Full report at: https://media.audubon.org/2023-07/BirdsAndTransmission.pdf.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

To achieve climate change stabilization, the U.S. needs to rapidly build-out transmission and clean energy infrastructure. The current U.S. electric grid was not designed for a clean energy future and does not have sufficient capacity for a transition to 100% clean and renewable energy production. Furthermore, the current process for developing transmission takes too long and does not always provide adequate environmental and cultural protections. We must improve both. Conservation organizations and clean energy project developers will need to work together towards this mutual goal. This means collaborative planning efforts to minimize the risks of transmission construction and operation to biodiversity, and to speed the deployment of needed capacity additions that will enable clean power.

While expanding transmission will enable us to support the more diverse and decentralized energy system needed to maximize a wider range of renewable resources across different geographical regions, it also requires large scale construction efforts. With this comes land clearing and creating access to remote areas with heavy machinery, both of which can lead to disturbances and degradation of natural habitats. Once constructed, transmission lines may continue to pose a threat to a variety of species. This report acknowledges both the risks to birds from transmission lines (see section How Do Transmission Lines Impact Birds?) and the climate im- perative to build a grid that enables climate stabilization (see section Why We Care). It examines how Audubon can best engage to ensure that we build the grid that birds need.

In the last decade, scientific research has advanced our understanding of transmission impacts on birds, and in this report we delve into the best practices grounded in science on how to abate these risks (see section How Do We Minimize the Impacts of Transmission?). This includes identifying and implementing effective bird-friendly solutions both proactively (during planning) and reactively (post-construction) for projects. It also includes mapping out the location of high priority areas for birds, where conservation organizations such as the National Audubon Society can engage site-specific project developers (see section Knowing Where to Engage: High Priority Areas for Transmission Engagement) to ensure practical bird-friendly solutions can be put in place where projects overlap with integral habitat for birds.

Audubon's goal is as always to protect birds and the places they need
to thrive. To address the dual crises of climate change and biodiversity loss it is clear that we need to proactively engage to accelerate the needed build-out of transmission capacity while mitigating unintended negative consequences for people and for wildlife. Working together with other conservation organizations, decision makers, and project developers we can learn to do both at the same time.

This report lays the foundation for Audubon's engagement in transmission planning, policy, and deployment. It first outlines the need for additional transmission capacity to minimize the impact of climate change on birds and people. Then we provide an overview of the current scientific understanding of the impacts of transmission infrastructure on birds as well as key bird-friendly solutions that can be implemented to help reduce negative consequences. We also identify and map areas of high priority for birds, both today and under a changing climate, that coincide with existing, planned, and potential transmission build-out. We found that roughly a third of existing, planned, and potential transmission lines coincide with areas that are important for birds. These priority areas for transmission engagement are where the work of Audubon and its supporters will be most integral as collaborators in the planning process. Grounding this work in science provides a foundation for how and where Audubon can meaningfully engage on transmission planning and project development. This report also highlights how we can translate this science into action using a case study about our work on the SunZia transmission line. Finally, we outline the transmission policy objectives, which will guide Audubon's work with policy makers and project developers moving forward. Reaching our clean energy goals and transmission needs will help provide a path towards a more stable climate, where bird species are better off, and where people and bio- diversity can thrive.

Climate change is the greatest threat to birds and people alike. We need urgent action on climate and a rapid build-out of clean energy as a key part of the solution. And although transmission build-out does pose risks, there are solutions that can be implemented to alleviate these. The alternative, where we don't meet our clean energy goals, is a world where two-thirds of bird species in North America face devastating range loss and potential extinction. Because of this, Audubon supports the responsible build-out of transmission, and emphasizes that this must be done in a way that both minimizes harm to birds via bird- friendly solutions while also providing a path forward for a more climate-stable future. To achieve both, we need to:

Dramatically speed the pace of transmission deployment

Shorten the timeline from planning to in-service

Maximize the effectiveness of the existing grid and use of existing rights of way

Improve the transmission planning process

Establish a stronger transmission role for the Federal Energy Regulatory

Commission (FERC)

Secure federal transmission policy reforms

Prepare states for the magnitude of transmission deployment

Promote bird-friendly design and operation

It also means showing up and engaging with local transmission projects to ensure bird-friendly solutions and community needs are a part of the plan from the beginning. Audubon and its supporters will be vital during the planning process within high-priority areas for transmission project engagement. It is these locations that are both important for birds today and in a changing climate, but also integral for a successful clean energy path forward. Here, we need to show up and support responsibly-sited, bird-friendly transmission project implementation.