Do renewable energies have an impact on biodiversity?

Wind turbines, dams, and solar farms are essential in the fight against climate change. But they should not be built just anywhere because these infrastructures generate the development of roads and infrastructure that impact biodiversity in an often uncontrolled manner.

Is it necessary to choose between global warming and the preservation of biodiversity? It is the question raised by renewable energies.They  reduce greenhouse gas emissions by producing “clean” energy.They generate an artificialization of natural areas with a significant loss of habitat and biodiversity. A study, published in the journal Global Change Biology, reviewed nearly 3,000 renewable energy installations worldwide (solar, wind and hydroelectric power plants) and calculated that they encroach on or degrade 886 protected natural areas and more than 800 critical sites for biodiversity, as defined by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).

Wind energy, 100 times more space-consuming than nuclear power

It must be said that renewable energies are particularly space-intensive. According to the calculations of a study by The Nature Conservancy (focusing only on installations in the United States), wind energy impacts an area equivalent to 126.9 km2 per TWh produced, compared with 15.1 km2 for solar photovoltaic and 16.9 km2 for dams. By comparison, coal generates an impact of 0.64 km2, and a nuclear power plant requires an area of just 0.13 km2. The installation of a single wind turbine requires, for example, a crane area, a permanent parking area, an area around the foundations and above the dam, an access road, etc. Between the concreting and clearing of the land, some dams emit even more greenhouse gases than coal power plants, reports another 2019 study.

An anarchic development of renewable energies “incompatible with efforts to preserve biodiversity.”

“More than 2,200 renewable energy units are in operation worldwide, and 900 are under construction. These infrastructures, as well as all those they generate such as roads and associated human activities, have a devastating impact on natural areas and are totally incompatible with efforts to preserve biodiversity,” says José Rehbein, lead author of the study and researcher at the University of Queensland in Australia. It is particularly evident in Western Europe, where more than 1,200 power plants (nearly one in four) are built on sensitive or protected areas.

Examples of this nonsense are legion. In the Amazon, the Balbina dam, north of Manaus, has submerged more than 312,000 hectares of primary tropical forest and created an artificial archipelago of 3,546 islands, of which only 0.7 percent are still capable of sheltering the species previously present. In Russia, the Volgograd Dam forms a barrier to the passage of sturgeon migrating up the Caspian Sea.