Recent growth and development of renewable energy and unconventional oil and gas extraction are rapidly diversifying the energy supply of the United States. Yet, as our Nation works to advance energy security and conserve wildlife, some conflicts have surfaced. To address these challenges, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is conducting innovative research and developing workable solutions to reduce the impacts of energy production on wildlife. USGS scientists collaborate on many studies with scientists from other Federal, State, and local government agencies; Tribal nations; academic research institutions; and nongovernmental and private organizations.
The mix of fuels used for electricity generation is evolving. Solar, natural gas, and wind energy made up most electricity generation additions in 2015 and 2016. The United States now leads the world in natural gas production, with new record highs for each year from 2011 through 2015. More than 48,000 wind turbines now contribute to power grids in most States, providing about 5 percent of U.S. end-use electricity demand in an average year. The number of utility-scale solar-energy projects is growing rapidly with solar energy projected to contribute to the largest electricity generation addition in 2016.
A substantial number of large energy projects have been constructed on undeveloped public lands, and more are anticipated at an increasing rate, creating new stress to wildlife. Direct impacts include collisions with wind turbines and structures at solar facilities and loss of habitat which may negatively affect sensitive species. Recent estimates suggest 250,000 to 500,000 birds die each year at wind turbine facilities. Bat fatality rates at wind turbine facilities are less certain, but may average several hundred thousand per year throughout North America. Because new projects may be located in or near sensitive wildlife habitats, ecological science plays a key role in helping to guide project siting and operational decisions.