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Building Renewable Energy Alongside Wildlife

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
This view of the Valley Electric Association's Community Solar Project shows how native vegetation and natural topography are left intact.

A solar project in our region is opening up conversations around building wildlife protection into renewable energy infrastructure.

The Valley Electric Association's community solar array sits within the Mojave Desert of southern Nevada. The area is also critical habitat for the endangered Desert Tortoise.

Jennifer Wilkening is a wildlife biologist for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. She says that's why they built the 15-megawatt solar project to complement, rather than replace, the existing landscape.

"Leaving the native vegetation in place and retaining the natural topography of the site, and then also placing openings around the site so that Desert Tortoises and other wildlife could pass in and out of the site," she said.

Credit U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Openings like these are scattered throughout the perimeter of the solar project, allowing wildlife to come in and out as needed.

Wilkening says now that the utility has been live for two years, researchers are able to collect data on its effectiveness. So far, they've found that Desert Tortoises and other wildlife, like jackrabbits and coyotes, are passing through the area. So their idea seems to be working.

Wilkening says other larger renewable energy projects could use this as a model.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Copyright 2019 KUNR. For more, visit kunr.org.

Noah Glick is a former content director and host at KUNR Public Radio.