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Renewable energy is energy from a source that is not depleted when used, such as wind or solar power. Fossil fuels are “non-renewable” because there is a finite amount of these resources and when they are used they are no longer available.
Some definitions of “renewable” energy – including the U.S. Department of Energy’s definition – also include hydro-power, geothermal, and biomass because these supplies are “replaced” relatively quickly. While there is some disagreement as to what energy sources should be classified as “renewable”, there is general consensus that fossil fuel resources are not “renewable” or “green” energy. Learn more about renewable and alternative fuels from US EPA.
All energy generation and use requires some resources to develop and distribute, so when considering the “appropriateness” of energy siting proposals it is important for the conservation community to consider the costs and benefits of the proposed technology.
Renewable energy can be considered a mitigating technology because it provides non-fossil fuel-based generation alternatives. Although significant gains in efficiency have been made, new sources of power will be required to meet demand and support a national clean energy strategy. While there are opportunities for smaller-scale generation, such as rooftop solar panels, to transition away from large-scale generation using convention fuels, additional deployment of large-scale renewable energy facilities may be needed to support existing and future energy demand. Energy generation and transmission siting are significant land management decisions which occur at different scales across the landscape.
Land trusts and the conservation community have responded to energy expansion propositions in different ways, in part because proposed projects can vary tremendously. A 2009 policy statement on renewable energy deployment from a coalition of conservation organizations emphasized that “there must be a balance between the short-term impact of siting renewable energy facilities with the long-term impacts of climate change” and that “it will be essential to site and configure new energy infrastructure to avoid and minimize environmental impacts and to prevent undue and unnecessary degradation across the landscape.” Balancing deployment needs with land conservation objectives can be a challenge, and projects may need to be approached on a case-by-case basis.
Strategies to address renewable deployment in conservation easements vary. Some land trusts permit renewable energy facility siting on a property as long as the output is designed to meet energy needs on the property, not allowing for wider commercial application. Others terms may establish acceptable locations for deployment such as sites out of critical areas or public viewsheds. Some easements provide that the application of renewable technology may be allowed subject to land trust approval, a provision that provides land trusts with the opportunity to influence the placement and assess potential impacts of proposed projects. In some cases conservation and well-sited renewable energy deployment can be complementary objectives. Alternative energy deployment may be an acceptable use of some lands, provided this use is not inconsistent with the overall purpose and conservation value of the easement. In fact, as the Land Trust Alliance highlights in Reshaping the Energy Future, strategic deployment of appropriate renewable energy resources can support improved conservation outcomes in the context of a changing climate.
The U.S. Department of Energy provides a broad description of renewable energy, excluding fossil fuels and nuclear energy.
Total consumption of renewable energy has been growing in the U.S. - reaching over 10% of consumed energy in 2014 - and this growth trend is expected to continue.
Land trusts are working to reduce threats and impacts of climate change in different ways. Learn more.