Today’s Solutions: November 30, 2021

Maine has identified a new tool to proceed with renewable energy expansion more sustainably. The state’s new Renewable Energy Siting Tool is an interactive map that allows officials and energy developers to identify the safest places for renewable energy projects where they will have the least impact on sensitive wildlife habitats.

Renewable energy is critical for building a greener future, but it’s not without its drawbacks. Wind turbines pose a hazard to birds, solar arrays can disrupt sensitive habitats, and hydropower systems interrupt the movement of aquatic creatures. The new map, created by Maine Audubon, uses layered data on ​​habitats, energy resources, existing infrastructure, and administrative boundaries to pinpoint sites where renewable energy projects will be both efficient and environmentally-friendly.

Maine has passed legislation requiring 80 percent of the state’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2030, but location scouting for infrastructure development will be critical to ensuring that this goal doesn’t have unintended impacts on local flora and fauna.

The tool, which its creators hope will inspire other states to establish similar maps, is not intended explicitly for regulatory purposes, but will help developers pick optimal locations to improve the likelihood that their proposals make it past environmental impact assessments. Maine Audubon sought out input from a variety of organizations, including Maine Farmland Trust, the Nature Conservancy, Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection, state biologists, multiple municipalities, and renewable energy developers to ensure that the map wasn’t overlooking any concerns or ecosystems.

Moving forwards, Maine Audubon hopes to make the map accessible via an app and continue to add layers of complexity to it as they collect more data. Map lead developer Sarah Haggerty told Treehugger, “We also hope to expand it to help communities guide other types of development, not just renewable energy.”

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