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eSensitivity tool launched to balance biodiversity, energy planning

New Delhi, June 20 (IANS) A dozen-odd chinkaras – a protected species – lost their lives in Rajasthan after being attacked by stray dogs as they could not cross over to safe territories due to the fencing of a solar power plant earlier last week.

In this case, it is the chinkaras, but a majority of the time, it is birds that suffer due to renewable energy plants. The distress experienced by the animals, especially protected and endangered bird species, has been a cause of concern for wildlife enthusiasts who have blamed faulty Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) for the damage caused to wildlife due to renewable energy plants in sensitive habitats.

The global transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy presents an opportunity for positive change but, if poorly planned, could come at the expense of biodiversity. Renewable energy projects require large areas of land, and if developers only consider the availability of wind and solar resources, India – or for that matter the world – can lose many millions of hectares of natural land areas that store millions of tonnes of carbon and provide habitat to thousands of threatened species.

Exactly to address these kinds of issues, Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), BirdLife International, and the Asian Development Bank have launched a new, open access ‘Sensitivity’ mapping tool called AVISTEP – the Avian Sensitivity Tool for Energy Planning.

The beta launch showcased how the tool will help to identify locations of low sensitivity ideal for development as well as where renewable energy could impact birds and should, therefore, be avoided.

BirdLife’s Tris Allinson, who has led the project, said: “Renewable energy is not truly ‘green’ unless efforts have been made to limit negative repercussions for biodiversity.”

The aim of AVISTEP is to prevent the unnecessary loss of birds and biodiversity during the expansion of renewable energy infrastructure. “It will help developers and regulators identify sites suitable for wind and solar energy and that are unlikely to negatively impact birds as well as areas that are highly sensitive and should be avoided,” the tool-developers said.

The BNHS has been instrumental in guiding the development of AVISTEP by providing information on bird distribution and ground realities throughout India. Ramesh Kumar, a scientist at the BNHS, said: “The location identification with the help of this tool will be most beneficial to the threatened and high collision risk birds such as Gyps vultures, Great Indian Bustard, raptors, and water birds such as flamingos, pelicans, and cranes. It will also be beneficial for some passerines and ground birds that are displaced due to the renewable energy infrastructure.”

The ecological imbalance due to the habitat loss of species which are at the top of the food chain could be minimised to a large extent especially in areas such as Western Ghats, west and east coasts of India by using this tool, he said.




Harnaaz Kaur Sandhu

Kajal Aggarwal

Rashami Desai

Nikki Tamboli

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