March 25, 2011 | Leadership, Sustainability + Energy

I recently became chair of the American Wind Wildlife Institute. Being chair of any organization comes with a certain level of responsibility. Sometimes it helps to remind myself that having all the answers is, thankfully, not one of these responsibilities. If it were, then this group never would have come together back in October 2008.

Finding Common Ground

AWWI represents a unique collaboration, bringing together top environmental and conservation groups with leading companies from the wind energy industry—groups that have often found themselves at opposites sides of the table on issues.

Yet, as divergent as our group is, we have forged a common vision and mission that guides our efforts:

To facilitate the timely and responsible development of wind energy, while protecting wildlife and wildlife habitat.

The development of this mission statement was a positive first step for our group. But that’s not to suggest that everything is “right with the world.” On the contrary, I feel this group is at a tenuous time with an increasing number of issues yet to be resolved and decisions still to be made.

Given the enormity of the task before us, I think it’s essential that we keep in mind what brought this group together. This group recognizes that wind energy represents our best hope in combating climate change, the greatest environmental issue of our time.

Celebrating Our Successes

Never before has such a diverse group of stakeholders come together with a shared vision like this. (Can you imagine there ever being a National Coal-Wildlife Institute?) Certainly this is new territory for all of us and there is no guarantee of success. Knowing we have a difficult road ahead, I think it’s important for us to recognize what we have accomplished during our first few years:

    • The development, with the Nature Conservancy, of a landscape assessment tool that identifies sensitive wildlife habitats as well as lower-risk areas more suitable for wind energy development;
    • The launch of a pilot study to build a research information system that will gather existing wind-wildlife data to support scientific research and analysis;
    • The release of a report, called Enabling Progress that provides a review of current wildlife-related mitigation practices being used in the U.S. and how those practices might relate to future wind energy development; and,
    • The establishment of an eager staff under the direction of Executive Director Abby Arnold with help from our valuable team of outside technical advisors.

None of these achievements would have been possible without this group working together, raising questions and having the tough discussions that come with such issues.

Recognizing and Valuing Our Diversity

When you have such a diverse group sitting at the table, certainly there will be times when any one participant might feel that his or her values or beliefs are at risk of being compromised. I can certainly relate to this. Current energy policy discussions at the national level have switched from the development of an RES based purely on renewable energy sources to the development of a CES, which may include “clean” coal, nuclear and natural gas.

I entered the wind energy industry almost three decades ago with a belief that wind energy could change the world and that clean renewable resources offered us hope for the future. So this discussion to count non-renewable energy sources as “clean” causes me much concern to say the least.

But I also recognize that I have a choice. I can choose to walk away from these discussions and guarantee that I will have no chance to shape them. Or I can continue to be a participant and have input to the process. The second choice gives me more power.

And that’s how I see the process for AWWI. Each one of the participants brings a unique perspective and set of beliefs to the table. No one participant is more right or wrong. But each needs to be heard.

So as chair I believe my most important responsibility will be to keep everyone at the table. We have the opportunity to make a difference, to do it differently than the past and solve problems together rather than fight each other. We are covering new territory and certainly it will be tough at times and we may ask ourselves if it is worth it. I know it is.

I still believe that wind energy has the potential to change the world and AWWI has a role in this. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of this collaboration. We need to keep in mind that the power of collaboration comes from having all the perspectives. We need to build on the trust that has been established, as we make tough choices. But most importantly, we need to stay at the table. Because it is this collaboration that gives us all the power—the power to move wind energy ahead in a way we can all support.