Building Properly Siting Transmission Lines Needed to Secure a Safer Future for Birds and People

We can expand renewable energy and protect birds

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is the largest-ever single investment to tackle climate change in our nation’s history. This unprecedented bill will provide critical relief to protect our region’s wildlife and communities (see our blog post on what this bill will mean for the Great Lakes region). Combined with other high-profile bills like the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, it will also dramatically improve our nation’s electrical grid, with many of the improvements and new projects taking place in the Great Lakes region.  

One of the big infrastructure projects the IRA invests in is the construction of transmission lines, (also called power lines), which help move energy, from places like solar farms, long distances to cities and communities. Transmission lines are often tall, metal structures and are a crucial component of the electrical grid. The U.S. needs more of them in order to expand renewable energy generation across the country. By moving lower-cost energy through the grid, transmission lines also help lower energy prices for consumers.

Renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and geothermal are key to reducing greenhouse gas pollution, which is what we must do to protect the two-thirds of North American bird species at risk of extinction from climate change. One vulnerable species that spends its breeding season in the Great Lakes, the Willow Flycatcher, is at-risk of losing 58 percent of its current breeding habitat due to climate change.

Transmission lines are necessary to expand renewable energy to protect vulnerable birds. Indiana state legislators and appointees of the 21st Century Energy Policy Task Force are currently reviewing the state’s transmission needs in order to make recommendations on the state’s energy policies. This month, Audubon Great Lakes sent a letter to members of the Task Force addressing the importance of siting these transmission lines in ways that minimize and mitigate impacts to birds. As more transmission lines are built, it will be more important than ever that they are responsibly sited and managed. Fortunately, there are some steps we can take to protect birds as our renewable energy sector expands.

Audubon supports recommendations from the Avian Power Line Interaction Committee (APLIC) to protect birds, including marking power lines, managing surrounding lands, changing the size or configuration of wires to prevent electrocutions, and burying lines underground when practical. Audubon also supports additional research on bird interactions with transmission lines. Recently, Audubon’s Rowe Sanctuary in Nebraska was the site of an experiment in lighting transmission lines to make them more visible to Sandhill Cranes and Whooping Cranes during low light times or weather events. The experiment found that by lighting the lines with quasi-ultraviolet light, crane collisions went down by 98 percent – a promising sign for future research.

The Inflation Reduction Act is a monumental bill that invests $370 billion to support clean energy technologies, which will mean big changes for the Great Lakes region and beyond. By setting the stage for properly sited transmission lines, we can ensure a safer transition for birds and the places they need to survive.

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