Renewable energies threaten biodiversity in Spain

    Spanish scientists warn through a letter in the magazine Science of the serious threat posed to biodiversity by the rapid and disorderly rise of renewable energies in Spain in the context of the Green Transition

    A total of 23 scientists who are experts in the conservation of birds and bats, belonging to the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), various public universities and other research organisations, including the Instituto de Investigación en Recursos Cinegéticos (IREC – CSIC, UCLM, JCCM), warn in a letter published in the magazine Science that the current accelerated and disorderly process of expansion of solar and wind energy in Spain may end up causing irreversible damage to biodiversity.

    If the multiple problems associated with the implementation of renewable energies are not immediately addressed, the energy transition will have the dubious privilege of being remembered not only for the change in the energy model, but also for jeopardize some of the unique natural values ​​of Spain.

    The Spanish Government contemplates 89 GW of wind and photovoltaic solar energy in the draft of the National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan (PNIEC) for 2021-2030. These forecasts, however, they have been overwhelmed. Despite the efforts of the Spanish government to avoid a speculative bubble in the secondary market, there are already grid access permits for projects that represent 121 GW, and that will be added to the 36 GW of renewables already installed, almost doubling the targets of the PNIEC.

    The new projects will affect cheap land, mostly marginal agricultural areas occupied by extensive dryland cereal or mid-mountain areas, both with high ecological value. In particular, "photovoltaic projects, which occupy flat areas, can compromise the viability of populations of steppe birds whose populations are already seriously threatened and which find their last European or even global refuge in Spain. These populations are also found mostly in areas not covered by the Natura 2000 Network, so there are no legal tools that allow them to shield them from the advance of energy macroprojects.”, comments David Serrano, a researcher at the Doñana Biological Station (EBD-CSIC).


    The impact that the loss of biodiversity associated with renewable energy projects can have on the ecosystem services provided to society can be very important. Renewables are necessary, but their coexistence with biodiversity requires ambitious planning and good practices in environmental assessment processes (Photo: Iosu Antón).

    Poorly planned and built wind farms in areas where large soaring birds exist are known to they can mean the death of thousands of specimens and put their populations at risk. For those species on which there is minimally adequate information, such as the griffon vulture, “It is estimated that the annual mortality in Spanish wind farms can be close to a thousand specimens”, as revealed by the researcher Juan Manuel Pérez-García, from the Miguel Hernádez University of Elche.

    Many other species, some of them seriously threatened, are also killed in wind farms. It is difficult to know the real magnitude of the problem because follow-ups are often poor. So, "the number of bats killed in these facilities is estimated to exceed that of birds, and affects a minimum of 200.000 individuals per year”, comments the researcher Carlos Ibáñez, from the EBD-CSIC.

    These negative effects arise from poor planning, often based on information that is out of date and not scientifically verified, generated by the same companies that are beneficiaries of the projects. The same occurs with monitoring protocols, which are usually carried out by the companies themselves, often with very little supervision by the administrations. On the other hand, the systems that are being used as deterrents for birds and bats have been shown to be of doubtful effectiveness. The researchers point out that Today, the most effective thing is to avoid locations in areas of high biodiversity and to stop turbines when high mortalities are detected..

    The signatories of this letter highlight their strong support for renewable energy, but They advocate a more planned and rational process, without habitual bad practices such as the division of projects, and based on the technical and scientific knowledge generated and contrasted. regardless of companies and promoters. They also advocate a stronger green commitment, with more distributed and decentralized energy policies, which are committed to efficiency, demand management, energy saving, self-consumption and improvement of energy performance in buildings, since all of this would reduce direct environmental impacts on biodiversity.

    The scientists urge the state and regional administrations, responsible for land and biodiversity management, to “become aware of the enormous conservation problems associated with the way things are being done, which we must correct immediately if we really want these energies to be more green than gray”, concludes the researcher José Antonio Donázar, from the EBD-CSIC.

    You can consult the full text of the letter published at Science in:

    • Serrano, D., Margalida, A., Pérez-García, JM, Juste, J., Traba, J., Varela, F., Carrete, M., Aihartza, J., Real, J., Mañosa, S. , Flaquer, C., Marin, I., Morales, MB, Mayor, JT, Arroyo, B., Sánchez-Zapata, JA, Blanco, G., Negro, JJ, Tella, JL, Ibáñez, C., Tellería, JL, Hiraldo, F., Donázar, JA 2020. Renewables in Spain threaten biodiversity. Science 370, 1282-1283.