WITHDRAWN Commission Meeting Agenda Item No. 7
Presenter: Laura Zebehazy

Renewable Energy and Wildlife
May 25, 2023

I.      Executive Summary: Staff will brief the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission on renewable energy and wildlife matters. Texas leads the nation in wind energy development and comes in second to California in solar energy development. Both renewable energy types can cause impacts to wildlife populations and associated habitats. Staff will present details on renewable energy development in Texas, with an emphasis on wind, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s (TPWD) role in reviewing renewable energy projects, and wildlife and habitat impacts.

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II.     Discussion: In 2023, there are approximately 150 wind energy facilities and 200 solar energy facilities operating in Texas. Wind energy facilities have been operating in Texas since 1999; however, the emergence of utility-scale solar energy facilities is a relatively recent addition to Texas’ energy portfolio. Future projections indicate that solar energy development will begin to outpace wind energy development in Texas. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finances projections, Texas is expected to average roughly 3.5 gigawatts (GW) of solar energy and 2.8 GW of wind energy additions each year between 2023-2030. For reference, Texas added 2.3 GW of solar energy and 4.1 GW of wind energy in 2020. According to the United States Wind Turbine Database in January 2023, there were 18,585 turbines in Texas, with most located in the Panhandle, West Texas, and South Texas. However, because of turbine technology advancements, new wind energy facilities are being proposed in other regions of the state that were once thought to be less suitable for development. Also of note, in February 2023, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management published a Proposed Sale Notice for three offshore wind lease areas in Gulf of Mexico federal waters: one off the coast of Lake Charles, Louisiana and two located off the coast of Galveston, Texas.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Code section 12.0011 directs TPWD to provide recommendations on or information about protecting fish and wildlife resources to entities that approve, permit, license, or construct development projects or make decisions affecting natural resources. Presently, staff in the Wildlife Division’s Ecological and Environmental Planning Program (EEPP) meet with some, but not all, renewable energy facility project proponents and provide recommendations and beneficial management practices that when implemented will avoid or minimize impacts to natural resources.

The construction and operation of land-based wind energy facilities can have direct and indirect impacts on wildlife, in particular birds and bats. Raptors and migratory tree bats appear to be most vulnerable to collisions with wind turbine blades; however, population declines related to white-nose syndrome compounds collision impacts to cave-dwelling bat species, and taller turbine heights may increase direct conflict with migratory songbirds, waterfowl, and shorebirds. Understanding population level impacts to wildlife is hampered by lack of data from Texas and other states with a high proportion of wind energy facilities. Wind energy facilities physically remove a small percentage of the vegetation and wildlife habitat in a project area; however, there are concerns about displacing sensitive species from occupying or using an area with wind turbines, and it is not known what the long-term impacts of the displacement can have on those wildlife species. Regarding offshore wind impacts on wildlife, there is a paucity of data from North America. Studies from Europe indicate that bird and marine mammal species are displaced from project areas, but the long-term and population effects are largely unknown. Very little information exists about impacts to bat species from offshore wind development.

Utility-scale solar energy facilities can cause significant habitat loss and fragmentation depending on the size, design, and technology of a facility. It is estimated that it takes approximately ten acres of solar panels to produce one megawatt (MW) of electricity. As of December 2022, Texas had 14,806 MW of utility-scale solar capacity, up from 2,400 MW in 2019. Little research has been conducted to assess impacts to wildlife and their habitat from this rapidly expanding industry. Due to fencing requirements around this critical infrastructure, decreased landscape permeability and diminished habitat connectivity for wildlife movements are of concern. Solar energy developers are exploring dual use of their facilities for agricultural activities like crops and livestock grazing and for pollinators by planting beneficial plant species amongst or adjacent to solar panels.