A giant, poor-sighted bird stands in the way of India’s green energy goals

Pity the great Indian bustard.

The majestic, endangered bird is massive, making it slow to maneuver in flight. It has poor frontal vision, and an unfortunate habit of scanning the earth while flying across the flat grasslands of India’s western borders. That combination too often sets it on a fatal collision course with power lines.

Pity also, if you will, the plight of India’s renewable energy developers.

The wide-open region that’s home to the rare bird has long been an ideal location for wind and solar projects. In an effort to save the great Indian bustard from flying into power lines, a Supreme Court order is asking for transmission lines in a large swathe of the region to go underground. The companies say the directive could cost an estimated $4 billion in extra expenses, and jeopardize nearly 20 gigawatts of awarded solar and wind projects.

Before taking sides, though, be aware that the issue is more nuanced than a straightforward clash pitting industry against nature. The effort to save the bustard holds risks for what is arguably an even larger environmental cause: It could set back India’s climate goals, which depend heavily on the availability of wasteland like the bustard’s domain for putting up solar panels and wind turbines.

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