Today LevelTen Energy, The Nature Conservancy and The National Audubon Society launched a new white paper, Beyond Carbon-Free: A Framework for Purpose-Led Renewable Energy Procurement and Development, to guide the renewable energy industry toward a sustainable and equitable clean energy transition. As the pace of renewable energy development accelerates, energy buyers are increasingly looking to create positive social and environmental impacts beyond the emission reductions that a zero-carbon power purchase agreement delivers. However, the renewable energy industry lacks a standard and efficient method of assessing projects holistically based on these impacts. Beyond Carbon-Free addresses this need by defining a clear framework for integrating community, conservation, and climate considerations — the 3C’s— into every step of the renewable energy procurement and development process.
Crafted by renewable energy experts at LevelTen Energy, and conservation experts at The Nature Conservancy and The National Audubon Society, Beyond Carbon-Free advances the industry’s ability to build and procure with impact in mind, at the speed and scale the climate crisis demands. In the U.S. alone, it’s estimated that in order to achieve net-zero GHG emissions by 2050, developers will need an area of land greater than that of Colorado and Wyoming combined to construct new renewable energy projects. By embracing a “3C” approach, energy buyers and developers can play a pivotal role in maximizing the positive benefits this unprecedented build-out of wind, solar, and associated infrastructure can bring while achieving their own public sustainability commitments.
Community: In the U.S., analysts estimate new wind and solar projects could provide nearly $11 billion in tax and land lease revenues, as well as construction, operations, and maintenance wages to rural communities — where the majority of renewable energy projects will be built — by 2030. Further, renewable energy projects can provide significant air and water quality benefits, leading to reduced rates of lung and heart diseases and premature deaths. Through community benefit agreements and other similar programs, buyers and developers can help ensure that these holistic benefits are reaped by diverse and underrepresented groups within local communities.
Conservation: Environmental impact assessments are already a standard phase of renewable development. But as the pace of development accelerates, renewable developers can go even further to ensure that projects support conservation efforts. Developers can begin environmental impact assessments sooner, embrace advanced risk-screening tools like The Nature Conservancy’s Site Wind Right map and The National Audubon Society’s Important Bird Areas map, and foster deeper collaboration with local and state wildlife agencies to protect important habitats, maintain natural areas, and support healthy ecosystems.
Climate: While all renewable projects bring significant climate benefits through grid decarbonization, the extent of this impact can be amplified further through thoughtful project siting. A project developed within a “dirtier” grid where fossil fuel generation is more prevalent can bring greater decarbonization impacts than one sited on a “cleaner” grid. What’s more, wind and solar projects can be constructed on closed mines, former industrial areas, landfills, and other brownfield locations to avoid building in natural areas, forests, or viable agricultural land — maximizing the total potential for carbon abatement.
“Tackling climate change and protecting existing wildlife habitat are the most important environmental challenges of our lifetimes,” said Nathan Cummins, Great Plains Renewable Energy Strategy at The Nature Conservancy. “Luckily, well-sited renewable energy projects can advance both while ensuring benefits are driven to nearby communities. The 3C framework will help buyers take the lead to create a clean and green future where nature and people thrive.”
“LevelTen has seen how creating standards and transparency can accelerate the renewable energy economy,” said Zach Starsia, Director of Transactions at LevelTen Energy. “We wanted to drive that same progress from a social and environmental impact perspective, and are proud to partner with The Nature Conservancy and the National Audubon Society, two of the world’s leading conservation organizations, to develop the 3C framework.”
A Framework for Purpose-Led Renewable Energy Procurement and DevelopmentDownload
“Our peer-reviewed science shows that two-thirds of North American bird species will be vulnerable to extinction if we don’t reduce emissions and slow the rate of global temperature increase,” said Garry George, director of the Clean Energy Initiative at the National Audubon Society. “Clean energy is key to protecting both birds and people from the worst effects of climate change, provided that these projects are built and sited responsibly. This framework as part of the procurement process for renewable energy buyers will incentivize and reward projects that consider climate, community and conservation while creating a cleaner future for us all.”
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 76 countries and territories—37 by direct conservation impact and 39 through partners—we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.