Renewable Energy: Siting it Right in the Columbia Plateau

A balanced approach to 100% clean electricity

In 2019 Audubon Washington helped pass the Clean Energy Transformation Act (CETA) and concluded our six-year songbird monitoring program in the Sagebrush Sea. Since then, we’ve been finding ways to leverage our science to protect this important habitat as our state builds the solar energy needed to reach 100% clean electricity. 


In the 2021 legislative session, we worked with a bipartisan group of stakeholders and legislators to revive $500,000 in state funding for a stakeholder-driven process to guide utility-scale solar photovoltaics (PV) development towards areas with the least conflicting values. This funding had been vetoed as a part of Governor Inslee’s pandemic-related budget cuts, but the diligence of advocates from across the state successfully demonstrated to legislators and the Governor how important this process promises to be.


Washington State University’s Energy Program is leading the Least-Conflict project. Meanwhile, Audubon Washington, our network of chapters, and our conservation partners will continue to monitor what has become a solar boom in the Columbia Plateau, encouraging well-sited renewables and strong mitigation measures.


Audubon Washington is also a leading voice for reforming our state’s approach to siting, permitting, and building the clean energy infrastructure necessary to meet our climate goals. Through our participation in the state’s Low Carbon Energy Facility Siting Advisory Board, we’re exploring policies and investments that will put habitat protection, tribal resource preservation, and community needs at the forefront of efforts to build a 100% clean energy economy. 

What exactly is a “least-conflict” siting process? 

In 2015, California tackled these same issues head-on in the agriculturally productive San Joaquin Valley. Berkeley Law’s Center for Law, Energy and the Environment (CLEE) partnered with Conservation Biology Institute (CBI) and a third-party facilitator to identify “least-conflict” areas for solar PV development in the eight-county San Joaquin Valley region.


The project team convened agricultural, ranching, conservation, and utility-scale solar PV development stakeholders, tribes, and key agencies. Through the facilitated process, participants identified the areas of least conflict for the development of solar PV. That data was used to inform maps that developers now use to make rational, community-informed decisions about where to propose new utility-scale solar PV projects and where projects might be permitted more efficiently without opposition or conflicts.  

Audubon Washington's Clean Energy Screening Tool

Climate change is the number one threat to birds, and Audubon strongly supports renewable energy – including solar, wind, and geothermal power – as long as it is sited in ways that avoid, minimize, and mitigate negative impacts on birds and other wildlife.  
To help determine if a solar project is sited in a way that avoids and minimizes impacts to birds, we developed a solar project screening tool to assess the potential impacts of solar energy projects on birds and habitat. This tool uses the latest information on bird and ecosystem values, including the sagebrush songbird models generated by Audubon’s five-year Sagebrush Songbird Survey.  
Together with our local Audubon chapters, we hope to support the expansion of renewable energy in Washington without sacrificing the habitat that birds and people need to thrive. 

Clean Energy Screening Tool

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