The sun sets behind a coastal wind farm at Hornsea.
OFF ENGLAND’S COAST: The sun sets behind a coastal wind farm at Hornsea. © Arild/Adobe Stock

Perspectives

Six Pathways to a Clean and Green Renewable Energy Buildout

Accelerating clean energy development is critical—here’s how we do it the right way.

We are at the beginning of an enormous global buildout of clean energy infrastructure. This is good news for climate mitigation—we need at least a nine-fold increase in renewable energy production to meet the Paris Agreement goals. But this buildout must be done fast and smart.

Renewable energy infrastructure requires a lot of land—especially onshore wind and large-scale solar installations, which we will need to meet our ambitious climate goals. Siting renewable energy in areas that support wildlife habitat not only harms nature but also increases the potential for project conflicts that could slow the buildout—a prospect we cannot afford. Building renewables on natural lands can also undermine climate progress by converting forests and other areas that store carbon and serve as natural climate solutions.

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Clean and Green Pathways for the Global Renewable Energy Buildout

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Fortunately, there is plenty of previously developed land that can be used to meet our clean energy needs—at least 17 times the amount of land needed to meet the Paris Agreement goals. But accelerating the buildout on these lands requires taking pro-active measures now.

Clean & Green: Pathways for Promoting Renewable Energy, a new report from The Nature Conservancy (TNC), is a call to action that highlights six ways for governments, corporations and lenders to promote a clean and green renewable energy buildout.

1. Get in the Zone: Identify areas where renewable energy buildout can be accelerated

Establishing renewable energy zones based on both energy development potential and environmental considerations can steer projects away from natural lands and support faster project approval—it’s a win-win for people and nature.

a flowchart showing development potential and environmental considerations contributing to zoning in low-impact areas

Learn More: TNC supports the identification of renewable energy development areas on U.S. federal lands and in New York state where development has community support and will have low impact on nature.

 


 

2. Plan Ahead: Consider habitat and species in long-term energy planning and purchasing processes

Governments and utilities make long-term plans to guide how they will meet energy demand and climate goals. They also establish purchasing processes for securing new renewable energy generation and transmission. When nature is considered in this planning and purchasing, renewable energy development can be directed to places that are good for projects and low impact for wildlife and habitat.

a flow chart showing long-term planning considerations contributing to incentivized development in low-impact areas

Learn More: TNC’s Power of Place project in the U.S. and renewable energy planning initiative in India are demonstrating how to integrate nature into energy planning processes.

 


 

3. Site Renewables Right: Develop science-based guidelines for low-impact siting

Siting guidelines help developers evaluate potential impacts to natural habitat and steer projects to low-impact areas. Such guidelines are even more effective when regulators and lenders set clear standards and expectations for their implementation.

a flowchart showing siting guidelines directing energy projects to low-impact land, with regulators and lenders setting clear standards for adopting those guidelines.

Learn More: TNC’s Site Wind Right supports the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wind Energy Guidelines by showing the ample opportunities for developing wind resources in the Great Plains while minimizing impacts to grasslands habitat.
 

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4. Choose Brownfields Over Greenfields: Facilitate development on former mine lands and industrial sites

Using former mines, brownfields and other industrial sites for renewable energy development can turn unproductive lands into assets, create jobs and tax revenue for local economies, and support goals for climate and nature. These sites can be ideal for renewable energy projects, as they often have existing transmission infrastructure and enjoy strong local support for redevelopment. It’s an approach that benefits communities, climate and conservation.

a flowchart showing contaminated lands being considered for utility-scale renewable energy projects

Learn More: TNC’s Mining the Sun work in Nevada and West Virginia demonstrates that developing solar on former mining lands can support renewable energy and local redevelopment goals.

 


 

5. Buy Renewables Right: Make corporate commitments to buy low-impact renewable energy to meet clean energy goals

Corporate sourcing of renewable energy is growing rapidly around the world. When companies buy renewable energy from projects that avoid impacts to wildlife and habitat, they can support their sustainability goals for climate and nature.

a flowchart that shows corporate triple bottom line (social equity, environmental considerations, and financial profit) contributing to companies sourcing renewable energy from low-impact areas

Learn More: TNC works with corporate members of the Renewable Energy Business Alliance to integrate low-impact siting considerations into procurement processes.

 


 

6. Invest for Climate and Nature: Apply lending performance standards to ensure renewable energy investments are clean and green

Financial institutions influence renewable energy siting through their environmental and social performance standards, due diligence processes, and technical assistance, all of which can require or incentivize developers to locate projects in low-impact areas.

a flowchart depicting performance standards that include environmental and social considerations being applied to financial institutions' investment in renewable energy projects, avoiding negative impacts to nature and communities

Learn More: TNC works to strengthen the lending performance standards of multilateral development banks and private financial institutions.

 


 

Resources

  • Wind turbines in a field at night, with title on image

    Full Report: Clean and Green Pathways

    May 2020

    The Nature Conservancy describes six critical ways to help governments, corporations and lenders accelerate our clean energy buildout while preserving natural lands, increasing local benefits for communities, and reducing wildlife impacts.

    DOWNLOAD
  • Thumbnail of infographic laying out six pathways

    Infographic: Six Pathways

    PDF

    This graphic lays out six pathways that governments, corporations and lenders can use to promote a clean and green renewable energy buildout.

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