Pennsylvania Legacies #211: Birds on the Wire

Climate change threatens the survival of more than two-thirds of North America’s bird species. But the massive buildout of power transmission infrastructure needed to support a zero-carbon energy system also poses a threat to birds — especially in Pennsylvania, which exports more electricity than any other state. A new report from the National Audubon Society shows that, with proper methods, scaling clean energy and protecting biodiversity can go hand in hand.

Brooke Bateman and Wendy Bredhold understand better than most people that switching to clean energy is easier said than done.  

Both work for the National Audubon Society — Bateman, as Senior Director of Climate and Community Science, and Bredhold, as Senior Manager of Audubon’s Transmission Initiative. They were part of a new report, “Birds and Transmission: Building the grid birds need,” which looked at the relationship between transmission lines and bird populations. It comes at a time of historic investment in clean energy, which is key to addressing the climate crisis.

Birds serve as effective indicators of environmental health, according to Bateman, and have been among the species most affected by climate change.

“They’re that proverbial canary in the coal mine,” Bateman said.

Already, shifting seasons are disrupting migration patterns. Wildfires have grown more intense, scorching habitat and food sources. In Pennsylvania, more than 90 species, including the state bird (the ruffed grouse) are vulnerable to climate change, Bateman said. Across North America, two-thirds of species face risk of extinction without climate action. Fortunately, the reverse is also true: if the world can meet the goals outlined in the Paris Agreement, 76% of those species would face less range loss or even see improvement.

“It just really shows that we know what to do and we can take action to do something about it,” Bateman said.

To meet the needs of a clean energy future, the nation’s electric grid needs to rapidly expand. But transmission development does not always consider environmental impacts. When it comes to birds, transmission lines can degrade habitat and contribute to fatal collisions. So does meeting clean-energy needs come at the expense of birds?

Not necessarily. According to the report, constructing a bird-friendly grid in ways that are both robust and responsible can be good for both industry and ecosystems.

“It is clear that transmission build-out is needed to achieve a future where the climate is stabilized, and where both birds and people thrive,” the report says.

Achieving this dual goal requires conservation organizations and clean energy developers to work together. In recent years, Audubon has been developing methods for bird-friendly transmission construction and maintenance. These tend to vary according to species but can be as simple as marking transmission lines with large balls to reduce collisions. Researchers at Audubon’s Rowe Sanctuary in Nebraska developed an ultraviolet light-based system (birds can detect UV light) that’s been shown to dramatically reduce bird mortality. Developers recently agreed to deploy the in of the nation’s largest transmission projects, SunZia, which stretches from New Mexico to Arizona. 

The report also maps out areas of high priority areas for birds to safeguard important habitat. About a third of existing and planned transmission lines, plus another 27% of planned and potential transmission corridors lie within these priority areas.

“There is an overlap between these important areas for birds and transmission, but these are really actually the important places where folks like us at Audubon would like to show up at the table to make sure that bird friendly practices are implemented from the get-go,” Bateman said.

Playing an active role in the clean energy transition is necessary for Pennsylvania to continue the state’s legacy of energy leadership. That is why Gov. Josh Shapiro’s energy plan, announced earlier this month, includes revamping the Commonwealth’s twenty-year-old Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards and proposing a carbon cap-and-invest program, both of which PEC supports.

Bredhold also sees such initiatives as key to a better future.

“That’s where the economy is going,” she said. “That’s where we have to go to protect communities and birds and all of us.”

Episode Links

Josh Raulerson: (00:01)
Today is Friday, March 22nd, 2024. I’m Josh Raulerson, and this is Pennsylvania Legacies, the podcast from the Pennsylvania Environmental Council. Like all living creatures on a warming planet, birds are stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one side, environmental disruption caused by climate change poses an extinction threat for up to two thirds of all North American bird species on the other side. Disruption caused by humanity’s response to climate change also puts birds at risk. Most of us know that avoiding the most dire climate scenarios will mean rapid deployment of new clean energy sources. A process that’s already begun less well understood, though, is the need to drastically upscale the power grid that will deliver all that clean energy where it’s needed. Now to support the global decarbonization push, the International Energy Agency estimates 50 million miles of electric transmission lines will have to be built by 2030. 

To put it in perspective, that’s roughly the distance between Earth and Mars. All that new infrastructure will inevitably affect the habitat migration and physical safety of the world’s birds. The only question is, what can we do now to limit the most harmful of those effects? A new report from the National Audubon Society looks at ways we can work now to advance progress on renewable energy while we also look out for birds, critical habitats and community impacts. Wendy Bredhold is Senior manager of Audubon’s Transmission Initiative, which published the study. Its lead author, Brooke Bateman, is Senior Director of Climate and Community Science. They both join us now to talk about how Pennsylvania and other electricity producing states can thread the needle. Brooke. Wendy, welcome. 

Wendy Bredhold: (01:46)
Thank you.

Brooke Bateman: (1:47)

Great to be here. 

Josh Raulerson: (01:48)
Before we get into what’s in the report, let’s set the stage a little bit and talk about, you know, Audubon’s mission Broadly. I think people know Audubon as an organization that’s all about advocating for birds, often in the face of challenges related to land use and development. Obviously, this report deals with those issues, but it might be a little bit different from what folks may be expecting. This report acknowledges that we need a massive build out of the electricity grid in this country and around the world, even though there may be some potential for, for impacts locally. So it’s all about balancing the risks and the opportunities, the impacts and the, the mitigations. Wendy, could you talk a bit about this kind of double-edged sword situation with birds and climate change and electrification? How do you sort of weigh the solutions against the risks of unintended consequences? 

Wendy Bredhold: (02:40)
Well, as Brooke will discuss, as she gets into the birds and transmission report, climate change is an existential threat to birds. Transmission infrastructure also impacts birds. So a helpful way to look at it is through the lens of, of two of my favorite birds. One is the common loon, and one is the sandhill crane. Common loons will have their habitat impacted by climate change. I think it’ll, it’ll move where their breeding areas can be located. And sandhill cranes just directly collide with transmission infrastructure. So what we want to do is build a grid, a bird-friendly grid that will get us to the renewable energy goals that we need to avoid climate catastrophe, but do it in such a way that reduces the impacts on birds like sandhill cranes so that we can have both species persisting into the future. 

Josh Raulerson: (03:36)

Let’s talk about what’s at stake for birds here. What makes birds maybe uniquely vulnerable in some ways to a changing climate? How serious is the danger? 

Brooke Bateman: (03:46)
Yeah, happy to answer that. So I wouldn’t necessarily call birds unique. I think that biodiversity and wildlife in general are, are going to be at risk to climate change and many already are. But what is unique about birds is because they’re so accessible and so visual that they’re really telling us what’s happening with climate change because we can see how they’re changing across our environment. So they’re really good indicators of environmental health, of climate change in general. And so they’re that proverbial canary in the coal mine. And so their survival really is linked to these healthy ecosystems, and we really do need that rapid transition to clean energy to really curb the effects of climate change. And we have the science to back that up. So we found that two-thirds of birds in North America are risk of potential extinction to climate change if we don’t take action on climate change. So if we do nothing, two-thirds of birds could lose large amounts of their range and potentially disappear. So that’s, that’s pretty, pretty dire. The good news is that our science also showed us that if we do stabilize climate change and take that action and build out this grid and clean energy, that 76% of those species will be better off and be less vulnerable. So it’s not too late. It just really shows that we know what to do and we can take action to, to do something about it. 

Josh Raulerson: (05:04)
Here in Pennsylvania, there are more than 400 species of birds that, that make their home here or maybe pass through. Can you talk about what the, the climate impacts look like on Pennsylvania’s birds? What might the ramifications be of losing some of those species do to climate change? 

Brooke Bateman (05:23)
Yeah, so I think that in Pennsylvania, just sort of looking at our analysis that we did at Audubon, our survival by degrees analysis over 90 species that breed or have their year-round or winter range in Pennsylvania are vulnerable to climate change. And that number will go up significantly when you just count the, the birds that migrate through some of those warbler species that go up to the boreal in Canada. So that, that’s a lot of species within the state that are already going to be affected. And this includes a common species like the American goldfinch, American black duck, one of my favorites, the northern flicker. These are birds that you expect to see in your backyard or, or locally that could potentially disappear from the state or across their entire range. Also, the state bird, the ruffed grouse, this is a species that at our maximum climate change scenario, the track that we’re on with climate change and sort of the business as usual, the grouse could lose more than half of its summer range and nearly 80% of its winter range across the state of Pennsylvania. 

So that’s just, you’re losing your state bird that that’s really showing that there’s some dramatic changes happening across the state. So if you want, you can actually, our website has an interactive component where you can go and actually go to survive by degrees, look up your state, and you can look at all the birds across the state that are going to be vulnerable and find that specific information for that state. I’ll also say that how that effect the loss of birds could affect the broader ecosystem. Birds do provide ecosystem services like insect control pollination. They, they help with forest health, but again, as I said earlier, they’re indicators of ecosystem health. So when they’re affected, it affects the overall health of our planet. And some of the things that we’re expecting to see is not just changes in species ranges, but along with that more extreme events, extreme heat, heavy rain, and increased fire weather are things that are predicted to increase in Pennsylvania as well as changes in sea bubble rise that could really affect parts of the Delaware river. So we’re going to see each kind of across the board changes if we don’t take action to stabilize climate now. 

Josh Raulerson: (07:25)
It’s, and not just ecological considerations. Wendy, there are also some economic implications, especially for a state like Pennsylvania, where outdoor recreation is a big part of our economy. Brooke mentioned ecosystem services. That’s something that sometimes figures in these equations, but obviously it’s tourism, it’s outdoor recreation. Plenty people are into birding here and, and that does have an economic impact on our state. Can you talk about those economic imp implications and others maybe that I didn’t mention that are associated with these, these climate threats to birds and maybe even human beings as well? 

Wendy Bredhold: (07:59)
Sure. Well, and I’m sure that in your podcast you’ve probably spent a lot of time on what kind of climate impacts there will be to humans and, in particular, to communities of color and lower income, people who are most impacted. But in terms of economic opportunities from, you know, bird watching has never been bigger, is my understanding, especially since the pandemic, more and more people have been getting into it. There was a Fish and Wildlife study in 2022 that said that 96 million Americans are reporting birding. So, you know, any impact on that would have an impact on the places where people like to go and look at birds. There are other economic impacts related to whether or not Pennsylvania is transitioning to clean energy that I think maybe we’ll want to discuss a little bit later. But I think that Brooke also had something to say about this aspect of tourism and conservation. 

Brooke Bateman: (08:52)
Yeah, I was just going to add that I think one of the other things when we’re thinking about stabilizing the climate, obviously we need clean energy, we need transmission. That’s going to be the biggest part of the equation. But another part of the equation is something that Audubon also works on our natural climate solutions. And so these are nature-based solutions where we’re going in restoring habitats, doing things to improve the habitats and improve the resilience. And that’s going to benefit both birds and human communities, providing things like water quality, heat reduction, things that are really going to just help in terms of making climate change more stable and more of a healthy planet for everybody. So I think we need to think about, we need the clean energy and transmission part along with doing the restoration and natural climate solutions work as well. 

Josh Raulerson: (09:36)
Great. Well, let’s talk about the clean energy piece. And Wendy, from an energy standpoint, what are we up against here? What are the needs by way of electrification and what are you recommending, what do we need to build? Where do we need to build it and on what timetable in order to stay on track with our climate goals? 

Wendy Bredhold: (09:54)
Yeah, that’s exactly what our transmission initiative is all about. I think that a really striking statistic that might help people to understand why transmission is so important is that the Inflation Reduction Act is our best opportunity to take action on climate as a country, you know, in years and maybe our best and last opportunity. And if we don’t build the transmission that’s needed to support the renewable energy, we could lose up to 80% of the carbon reductions potential in the Inflation Reduction Act. So that’s why it’s so important to get going on transmission and that Audubon is taking it head on by engaging in these transmission processes. You mentioned that in your introduction how much is needed. You know, it’s, it’s double to triple how much transmission currently exists on the grid. I read an article recently that said it would be enough to cross the country from New York to LA and back 15 times. 

Although by improving the existing grid and then using existing rights of way, we may be able to reduce, we should be able to reduce the amount that’s needed to actually build, and that’s the most bird friendly way to do it. But in terms of location, you know, broadly the Birds in Transmission report has identified the areas where transmission is most needed, where birds are most impacted in terms of habitat and collision risk, and sort of looked at these maps to generally map out the areas where we most need to be engaged as the National Audubon Society. And we’re also looking on a regional planning basis. So my role is to engage in the planning processes of MISO, which is the, the regional transmission operator, sort of in the upper Midwest. And that’s where I’m engaging on the first set of projects, meeting directly with the developers and looking at the areas where they’re planning these lines, looking at where the birds are, what birds are there, and what specific mitigations are needed for those ecosystems, those areas and those birds. 

Josh Raulerson: (12:04)
What are the concerns for birds specifically in the, in the way they’re affected by infrastructure? If you put it in the wrong place, if you do it the wrong way, are there indirect impacts as well as direct ones and, you know, how much variation are you seeing by region? You mentioned there is some variation there. And I guess, also, are there other concerns, environmental concerns that are not necessarily specific to birds that should be considered here?

Brooke Bateman: (12:28)
There are definitely are both direct and indirect impacts of transmission on birds. When we think about the direct impacts, a lot of that has to do with collision, direct collision and mortality of birds with the transmission. And so that is often associated with the specific morphological characteristics of the birds themselves, such as vision and flight, and also things like migration strategy, where these birds are feeding, where they’re spending their time, how they’re kind of flocking and moving around in the, the landscape. So collision is often happening when birds are flying into these overhead wires, and it really affects these birds that are strong fast flyers that have kind of poor vision, particular waterfowl and crane species like the Sandhill crane that Wendy mentioned earlier. And so that’s where really we see kind of the big impacts of direct. There are also indirect impacts, and that has to do with more how the habitat is modified, and that can also include degradation and disturbance. 

And this is particularly an issue when there’s active construction or when they’re trying to maintain these transmission lines. So that can disturb and fragment the habitat. It can also change the habitat enough that more predators might come. They might sit on the, on the transmission lines, and that can change the behavior of the, the individual birds. And then just the activity of humans being there, the traffic, the roads that are added that can, can cause things. So again, it can degrade habitat. That’s really a concern for some species such as grouse. Out West is the greater sage grouse that is an issue and can really affect these species, increase their mortality, their displacement, just change their sort of normal behavior, how they go about their courtship, and their, how successful their nests are. So a lot of the variability has to do with the particular bird species and where they live and how the particular transmission line might affect their habitat or displace them or their, or their actual behavior. 

Habitat degradation can also be an issue for non-bird species. Again, with these behavior changes and displacement can be an issue. One of the other things to keep in mind is the spread of invasive species. A lot of times these rights of way can provide sort of like a, a highway for invasives. And so habitat management is really key and something that I think Wendy will be talking about a little bit later. So I think that we need to just sort of think about these barriers to movement for, for big species like some of our big game species, but I think one of the things that we need to keep in mind is that we know a lot of these impacts and if we can implement these bird friendly designs, then we, we can do that from the get-go. So again, the impacts do vary by species. They also do vary by region, and that’s something in our report you can really take a look at areas that already have a lot of existing transmission. You can see in, in parts of Pennsylvania in the eastern Pennsylvania as well as out West. We already have a lot of transmission currently and planned you’re going to have more collision risk in those areas where we already have a lot of transmission. So I think that it’s just really has to do with how much new implant transmission there is versus e existing. And it does vary regionally and, and by the, the habitat and the species. 

Josh Raulerson: (15:35)
I’m glad you said that. It might be worth taking a moment to just look at what’s currently out there. Obviously we’re anticipating larger impacts in the future as the grid scales up, but do you have numbers, do you have data about the overall impact on bird populations of these existing power transmission systems and then, you know, can you extrapolate that forward? 

Wendy Bredhold: (15:55)
Yes, we do. And one thing I want to point out that I think is a common misunderstanding is that the risk to birds from transmission lines is not electrocution. As Brooke described, its collision and habitat degradation. The risk to electrocution is really from the distribution lines. These transmission lines are like the interstate highways that are carrying the electricity over long distances. But my understanding is that if you look at all of the bird collisions, and unfortunately there are lots of ways in which birds collide into human infrastructure, but if you look at all of that annually, less than 3% is coming from the existing transmission lines. And also that is a lot of transmission that was constructed without the best practices that we can use to reduce collisions and that we will be working to implement going forward. So we are advocating for those best practices and honestly have been for some time. We were part of the organization in 1989 with the Fish and Wildlife Service and utilities of the Avian Power Line Interaction Committee. So there is a way in which Audubon has been engaging on these issues for, for, for quite a while, but now is really putting resources to ensuring that this is done right when we have this unprecedented need to build so much transmission all at once. 

Josh Raulerson: (17:24)
Brooke, when you consider where birds live, their migration routes, the places where they’re likely to turn up and compare that with these possible or proposed transmission corridors that we anticipate, you know, coming online in the future, are there areas of concern where those two overlap or, or other ways in which the sighting of transmission projects is of particular interest? 

Brooke Bateman: (17:46)
So we, we do address this because we are trying to get a sense of where are the important places for birds and how does that align with the transmission, both, like you said, both potential and future as well as where it’s existing. And so our science on Audubon, we’ve already mapped out and understood where are the important places for migratory birds across the whole hemisphere, as well as where are these important places for birds with a climate change lens. So obviously birds are going to need to shift their, their ranges a little bit with climate change. So where important places are now, but where are important places for these climate strongholds for birds in the future. And so what we did is we sort of identified these priority areas for birds and saw how they overlapped with the transmission. So what we understood is that where there’s existing transmission and as well as planned transmission and potential future, there’s a about a third 30% overlap on average between those and the priority areas for birds. 

So that, that is a big amount. This is generally looking across the landscape at a high level, but we are seeing that there is overlap between in priority areas for birds and where we have or would like to plan transmission. And so that is, it just means that we need to, to really support the projects that could potentially lead to new habitat degradation and collision risk. I will say though, a lot of the areas that are planned and potential transmission do coincide with existing rights of ways. So there are kind of ways that we can steer some of the, the projects to potentially in areas where they already have existing transmission. So again, there is an overlap between these important areas for birds and transmission, but these are really actually the important places where folks like us at Audubon would like to show up at the table to make sure that bird friendly practices are implemented from the get-go. So it gives us the information we need to kind of take that action and make sure things are being kind of developed and planned appropriately from the beginning. 

Josh Raulerson: (19:37)
Well, I mean you can avoid a certain amount of problems just by being thoughtful about, you know, where you build the infrastructure, but inevitably there’s going to be a certain amount that just has to go here and there’s going to be a conflict or retention. So then the question becomes how do you mitigate those risks? How can the infrastructure itself be modified to be more bird friendly and what does that cost potentially? 

Brooke Bateman: (20:02)
Yeah, so I’ll start with the, the way that we can modify transmission infrastructure to make it safer for birds. First and foremost, we really want to be proactive about this and use solutions from the get-go. So implementing them during the planning process before construction, the huge thing about this is route planning. Like we had both mentioned, maximizing the development of new transmission within areas that have been previously disturbed such as rights of way is going to be huge. So thinking about how we can sort of route these transmission lines beforehand, it’s going to be important as well as putting bird friendly design in as we’re putting the transmission lines once we develop the route. And that can be as simple as just the, the spacing of the wires there. You can put the, the plane of the wires in line with each other and grouping them in one plane. So that can increase the visibility and kind of minimize the amount of collision potential that that particular transmission wire might have.

So again, proactive first, but obviously we already have a lot of transmission out there. We can have reactive solutions that we sort of do after the fact after things have been already on out there on the landscape. And that can include increasing the visibility of the line and there’s different marking devices or illumination devices such as UV lights that we can use that birds can readily detect and that can help reduce collision. We have seen in some case studies where we’ve worked in, Sunzia for example, that UV lights can actually reduce collision up to like 70%. So I think that there are solutions that we can do kind of after things have even existing for a really long time or just markers, line markers in, in terms of objects that make the lines easier to see. I know that for trumpet or swans for example, just marking the lines with big large balls, can help when they’re going between their, their foraging site where they’re, where they’re feeding to where they’re going to be spending the night that can help reduce collision. So definitely thinking about in a way that’s not going to increase the light in a way that’s going to be detrimental to the birds. So thinking about it from the bird lens as always.

Josh Raulerson: (22:07)
Can birds see in the UV spectrum? Is that why? 

Brooke Bateman: (22:10)
Yeah, they can.

Josh Raulerson: (22:12)
That’s fascinating.

Wendy Bredhold: (22:14)
Yeah, and that technology that Brooke cites that they’re, they’re trying out at the Sunzia transmission project in the Southwest was used in at our Rowe Sanctuary. Brooke, where is that located? Is it in Nebraska?

Brooke Bateman: (22:29)
Yes, Rowe Sanctuary is in Nebraska. That’s where Sandhill cranes gather on their migration route. 

Wendy Bredhold: (22:35)
Yeah. But it was incredibly effective there. It reduced collisions by something like 80%. I can’t remember the exact statistic, but it was extraordinary. So that’s really hopeful.

Josh Raulerson: (22:46)
Pivoting away from the infrastructure and the risk of collisions. You also talked about habitat impacts and other, you know, other considerations with the ways in which right of ways or managed vehicle access to the infrastructure itself. What is Audubon hoping to see in that area? What’s the right way to manage right of ways? 

Wendy Bredhold (23:05)
Well, the most bird friendly grid is the one that uses the most of the existing transmission lines and right of ways. And so there are different technologies that can be used to improve and make the existing grid more robust. National Audubon Society is part of the Next Gen Highways Coalition that is looking to cite transmission and existing right of ways and in some cases undergrounding the lines, which of course has zero impact on birds. We’re also advocating for policies that will help improve the existing grid, grid enhancing technologies, reconductoring lines, et cetera, in a way that makes the existing grid more efficient and that could reduce the amount for new transmission by up to half potentially. And of course, you know, that reduces impacts on birds. So a bird friendly grid is also in that way the most cost effective grid because if you’re using existing right of ways, if you’re using even, you know, even planning further in in advance, we’ll save money in the long run. So these are all things that we’re advocating for, and I think, you know, Brooke mentioned also managing habitat and rights of way like planting native low growing vegetation and removing invasive species and other disturbances can provide areas for birds for food nesting and shelter. So these are the types of policies that we’re advocating for and they’re all in the report if people want to take a look at it. 

Josh Raulerson: (24:37)
Wendy, I think you mentioned up top how a lot of what’s driving this obviously is there’s new federal funding, really ambitious programs to develop clean energy sources. That’s what necessitates the upscaling of the transmission infrastructure, obviously. When you look at those resources that are now available to states in the IRA and the IIJA legislation, is there anything that specifically speaks to these concerns about bird impacts or, or make resources or funding available to mitigate them? Where, where do you look for funding for the things you want to see happen? 

Wendy Bredhold: (25:09)
Yeah, well, I mean the IRA overall, just by taking action on climate change benefits, birds. I don’t know if there’s anything in it that’s specific to birds, but we posted on our website an article about a dozen different ways in which it benefits birds just from reducing greenhouse gases, conservation spending in a large, you know, area of things like grasslands and forests, coastal drought and wildfire resistance. So the IRA overall benefits birds and it also provides money for the grid for a variety of different types of groups, including developers and tribal nations, state and local governments, rural electric cooperatives. And I think that the Pennsylvania Grid Resilience grants program, which I’m sure you know more about than I do, got $16 million from the IIJA. So there is money in the IRA that benefits both birds and developing the transmission that we all need.

Josh Raulerson: (26:09)
And again, it’s not just the transmission, it’s generation as well as that last mile, the distribution, getting it to consumers. So I mean, we’ve been talking obviously about transmission, but are you thinking about those other two ends of the journey that the electricity takes to people’s homes? How do you address generation and distribution from a bird friendliness standpoint? 

Wendy Bredhold: (26:28)
Yeah, absolutely. Actually we’ve been engaging on, sun and wind or solar and wind projects for longer than we have deeply on transmission. And the work that I’m doing with developers of transmission now is really based on the work that we’ve been long doing around both solar and wind projects and are continuing to do to try to mitigate, mitigate impacts on birds from those projects. And so we have, you know, a whole set of guidelines that we ascribe to generally in terms of siting each and all of the above transmission, solar and wind. 

Josh Raulerson: (27:07)
As I think you know, Pennsylvania is the third largest producer of electricity in the US and I think the largest single exporter. What do you see as Pennsylvania’s role potentially in building a bird friendly grid? Where are the best opportunities to make that happen given the role of Pennsylvania in the, the national energy portfolio? 

Wendy Bredhold: (27:25)
Well, from what I understand, Pennsylvania has a tremendous opportunity to keep the state’s energy economy diverse and modern by transitioning to more renewables. And I believe Pennsylvania Audubon is working to support two state policy objectives that support this. An Alternative Energy portfolio Standard of 30% renewables by 2030 and also working on community solar. I think that, you know, Pennsylvania, obviously, as an exporter and large producer of electricity will need to transition from fossil fuels to clean energy if they want to remain a major producer of electricity in the country because that’s where the economy’s going. That’s where we have to go to protect communities and birds and all of us. 

Josh Raulerson: (28:14)
Yeah, and as we’re recording this, we’re anticipating hopefully any day now some news from the governor’s office about a proposal to update the portfolio standards, so that could potentially make a big difference. A question for both of you really. Where do all the things we’ve been talking about with power transmission fit in the bigger picture of birds and the way they interact with the human-built environment? Thinking about not just electricity stuff, but other ways to make an environment that will be less dangerous, more healthy and welcoming to birds. And I’m thinking about light pollution and, and bird safe building design, but what else should we be thinking about here? 

Brooke Bateman: (28:53)
Yeah, this is definitely a part of a bigger picture. Collisions and the way that birds interact with the built environment is a huge cause of mortality. We lose up to 5 billion birds a year due to collisions with buildings infrastructure in general. Again, Wendy had mentioned that only a small percentage of that is due to transmission, but we do have to sort of take action and take the opportunities that we have and the scientific knowledge that we have to put in those bird friendly practices. So bird-friendly glass is a huge one that we need to be thinking about in our buildings, as well as lights-out programs. So Audubon and other organizations are working on lights out programs in cities. Pennsylvania actually has a fantastic lights out program, which is turning off your lights, particularly in the cities during migration period. And that can greatly reduce the amount of collisions that we’re seeing.

So migratory birds, a lot of their migration is actually happening at night and that’s when the lights can really disorient them and that’s when they collide into these buildings. So a combination of lights out and bird friendly glass is going to be a huge win for the cities. If we can get that happening across the U.S. that would be fantastic. And then, like I said, we know these bird friendly practices. If we can get them as part of the design from the beginning, have legislation put in place that we need to think about these things before we build new buildings. Working with developers on transmission line projects, really using those proactive actions are really going to be key. So lots we can do and luckily we know a lot, so that, that’s always helpful. 

Josh Raulerson: (30:23)
Brooke Bateman, Senior Director of Climate and Community Science for National Audubon, Wendy, Bredhold is Audubon Senior Manager of the Transmission Initiative, which is behind this study we’ve been talking about today. We’ll have a link to it in the show notes for this episode. Wendy, Brooke, thank you so much for being here today.

Wendy Bredhold: (30:40)
Thank you, Josh. Really appreciate the opportunity to talk about it.

Brooke Bateman: (30:43)

Yes, it was great to be here and thanks so much for having us. 

Josh Raulerson: (30:53)
You just heard the second in a series of conversations we’ve been having about the relationship between birds and the built environment. In January, we looked at how light pollution in the night sky affects bird migration and habitat, and how dark sky legislation introduced in the Pennsylvania General Assembly would seek to counter those negative effects. Look for the link in the web post accompanying this podcast episode at and to close out the series. Next month we’ll focus on the shocking number of birds killed by collisions with buildings and learn about research being done in western Pennsylvania on bird safe building materials and design aiming to prevent such collisions. Look for that podcast episode in the next few weeks on the PEC website. Again, it’s There you can listen to all past episodes of the podcast in your browser, or if you prefer to subscribe on a mobile device using your app. of choice. 

There’s lots more information on the website about PEC’s work on trails and outdoor recreation, healthy watersheds, and energy and climate where there’s been quite a bit of activity. Over the last few weeks. We just got proposals from the governor’s office on expanding Pennsylvania’s Alternative Energy Portfolio standards, as well as a new carbon pricing program proposed for Pennsylvania. We’ll continue looking at those topics on the PEC website and on future episodes of the podcast. Again, find us at

That’s all for this time. Hope you can join us for the next edition of Pennsylvania Legacies in just about two weeks. Until then, for the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, I’m Josh Raulerson. Thanks for listening.