India’s relentless pursuit of a stated goal of producing 450 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2030 may be taking a toll on endangered bird populations, a study suggests.
The study highlighted bird mortalities, especially that of the highly endangered great Indian bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps), resulting from contact with power lines in the Thar Desert. A renewable energy hub, the Thar supports 14 threatened and 65 migratory species that populate the Central Asian Flyway, a geographical corridor used by migratory birds.
Concentrating on an area spanning over 42,000 square kilometres of the Jaisalmer district of Rajasthan state, the study found that wind turbines and solar farms have, over the last decade, spawned 1,700 kilometres of power lines criss-crossing the desert.
According to the study, the Thar Desert represents a conflict between electricity supply and conservation. “Arid ecosystems of India, marginalised as wastelands, are used for renewable energy production resulting in rapid expansion of overhead wires. Since renewable power is considered as ecologically benevolent, its expansion has been facilitated by leniency in environmental clearances,” the study said.
The great Indian bustard will, without doubt, be one of the first large species to go extinct in modern India. It is an irony that this extinction is being accelerated by green infrastructure.
Abi Tamim Vanak, associate professor, Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation
Large-bodied birds such as the great Indian bustard, a resident of the Thar Desert, are particularly vulnerable to power line collisions due to narrow frontal vision and heavy flight, says the study which estimates about 88,000 birds die each year in the area surveyed.
“The population viability analysis revealed that the Great Indian Bustard is at imminent risk of extinction due to power line mortality,” the study said.
Yadvendradev Jhala, one of the authors of the study, says that burying cables in certain locations is the best solution, adding that it is technically feasible. “All other cables need to be fitted with bird diverters on all conductors within bustard habitats,” he tells SciDev.Net.
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