All developments--including alternative energy installations--have to take into account wildlife habitats in their planning stages or risk facing the wrath of conservationists and policymakers. In the past, such analysis has been a daunting process, but a new bumper crop of online tools is helping companies make environmentally sound decisions about where to build facilities.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the National Audubon Society announced the release yesterday of a series of Google Maps mash-ups called The Path to Green Energy  that identify areas to be avoided by renewable energy developments because of legal restrictions or the presence of wildlife habitats.
The maps, funded partially by a $25,000 grant from Google.org, are meant to prevent conflict between developers and conservationists. The Path to Green Energy covers 1.3 million square miles of land with renewable energy potential in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
Similarly, Conservation International's  Integrated Biodiversity Assessment Tool  (IBAT) allows companies of all stripes to access up-to-date biodiversity information. For example, an oil company considering development in Russia's Lake Baikal might discover that the body of water contains thousands of species of rare plants and animals. Such knowledge could have prevented  Transneft, a Russian firm, from having to pay $1 billion to change an oil pipeline's route due to protests from eco- activists
So in the end, IBAT and the Path to Green Energy help companies save time and money, prevent environmental headaches, and provide education about wildlife habitats. It's a beneficial situation for all involved, especially in the case of renewable energy developments. The faster solar, wind, and geothermal companies can figure out which areas are suitable for installations, the faster we can transition to alternative energies.