REWI Advances the Environmental Science of Renewable Energy

May 22, 2024

Renewable energy is an indispensable component of the worldwide effort to reduce carbon emissions. To achieve global environmental goals, the industry must pay particularly close attention to the ways renewable energy facilities interact with local ecosystems and wildlife.   

To minimize environmental impacts, industry often needs answers to scientific questions that haven’t been answered. In 2008, Pattern Energy and other partners in the renewable energy sector combined their resources to establish the Renewable Energy Wildlife Institute, or REWI. 

REWI is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to conducting peer-reviewed scientific research on the risks and benefits of wind and solar energy generation on wildlife and the development of practical solutions to minimize or mitigate risks. The organization’s staff summarize the state of the science, generate and manage projects, serve in an advisory capacity for researchers in the field, and support the development of research protocols while sustaining high standards of independence and excellence.

REWI (formerly the American Wind Wildlife Institute, or AWWI) was founded by industry and leaders from the conservation and scientific communities who understood the industry’s need to better understand the risks and benefits of wind energy to wildlife and natural resources. Pattern and others in the industry, along with public agencies and the conservation and scientific communities, began to address these issues over 30 years ago. At the time, wind power was new to the energy landscape. Impacts on raptor populations at California’s Altamont Pass wind resource area were raising concerns among conservationists about wind power impacts on avian species. 

”The collaborative study of wind and avian interactions at Altamont Pass was a pivotal step for the renewables industry and the conservation and scientific communities to recognize the benefits that could result from collaborative research,” says REWI Executive Director Abby Arnold. “It was only after the collective research and dialogue that those involved were able to answer questions about what was happening and why—and then develop recommended practices.” 

REWI’s collaborative model of inquiry has been applied to many wind energy facilities and now is being applied to solar facilities as well. The insights into wildlife challenges provide decision makers with the information they need to set policy, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wind Energy Guidelines and recently updated Eagle Rule

Leading with science and collaboration

Seventeen years ago, leaders within the American Wind Energy Association, or AWEA, wanted to better understand the risks related to wildlife and natural resources. Former Pattern Energy CEO Mike Garland was among the leading voices calling for the industry to do more than fund a passive nonprofit. “The idea was to bring in collaborators from conservation, science, and public agency communities to establish credibility with regulators, academics, consultants, and others,” Arnold says.

REWI initially launched as a partnership between 16 industry, conservation, scientific and nongovernmental organizations, as well as state fish and game public agencies. “It was an experiment at the beginning,” Arnold says. Now REWI includes over 40 organizations, including renewable energy companies representing 57.6% of onshore wind and solar energy production in the United States as of early 2024, and 16 conservation science organizations and public agencies. REWI has spent the last sixteen years conducting dozens of research projects using independent science, producing technical reports and scientific journal publications after rigorous peer review.

Today’s renewable energy industry has evolved significantly since the first wave of wind facilities were built at Altamont Pass. Taking environmental impact into account is no longer an afterthought, but instead is one of the first considerations for most project developers. 

REWRF funds independent research on industry priorities

In 2018, industry leaders stepped up their commitments to advancing scientific research when they established the Renewable Energy Wildlife Research Fund (REWRF, or the Fund). REWI manages and administers the industry-led fund on behalf of its industry members. Pattern Energy’s Director of Permitting and Policy Strategy Adam Cernea Clark is one of three members of the Fund’s Executive Committee, which makes the major decisions on the Fund’s behalf, including providing project recommendations. REWI staff support the Fund’s partners in generating requests for and evaluating proposals, while also ensuring the science is independent and credible.

Fund Lead Trey McDonald says the Fund sponsors peer-reviewed research into interactions between wildlife and renewable energy installations. “The projects REWRF supports address the critical issues, what the conflicts could be, and their potential solutions to support buildout. The goal is to inform all decision-makers, including agencies, the industry, and the conservation and scientific community,” McDonald says.

Since its inception, the Fund has raised over $4.7 million and supported over 20 research projects. 

Studying potential impacts, both good and bad

The Fund recently approved funding for a new research project to determine the ecological value of a utility-scale solar energy facility. The project will be a collaboration between academic researchers, consultants, and a member of the REWI scientific team.

The project reflects the maturation of solar energy over the last decade. Arnold says solar provides unique opportunities and challenges, distinct issues from those raised by wind energy. “As we began to look at solar, our scientists are reframing the conversation to explore the potential ecosystem benefits of these facilities, not just risks.” 

McDonald says the new study will establish a baseline and use scientific modeling to explore wildlife interactions with utility-scale solar facilities in different regions of the country. “The focus will be on vertebrate biodiversity within the facility and its associated landscape,” McDonald says. The wide-ranging survey will examine the local environment from the granular, species level up to the community ecosystem as a whole. “The survey will include bats, birds, other mammals, reptiles and amphibians,” he says. 

Other research projects supported by the Fund include numerous studies exploring the root causes of bat mortality at wind facilities. For example, one study is testing the efficacy of a camera system designed to detect bat fatalities. The hope is that the system will allow researchers to pinpoint the specific conditions that accompany such fatalities to allow for the development of accurate mitigation measures.

The results of studies supported by the Fund are published in peer-reviewed journals or as technical reports by REWI. The organization publishes its reports online at

Pattern Energy is proud to be a leading partner in REWI’s mission to develop a better understanding of the interplay between our projects and the natural world. By following the lead of conservation science, the industry can continue to support a carbon-neutral future while also acting as a responsible steward of local wildlife.