Leaders in wind energy and wildlife conservation gathered in Sacramento, CA on January 17th to wrap up the year-long celebration of the 10th Anniversary of the American Wind Wildlife Institute (AWWI) by honoring the career and achievements of one of its founders, Dr. James A. Walker, a pioneer and visionary in wind and renewable energy.
Over 10 years ago, Dr. Walker recognized that if wind power was to realize its full potential, increased attention was needed to address its impacts on wildlife. It was Dr. Walker’s inspiration and persistence that drove the creation of AWWI, a unique collaboration of the wind industry and the conservation and science communities focused on finding solutions to wind-wildlife issues.
The event, attended by 70 distinguished guests from the wind-wildlife and California renewable energy communities, began with a viewing of AWWI’s anniversary video. AWWI Executive Director Abby Arnold then welcomed the guests, many whom had known Dr. Walker for decades, and turned the stage over to several speakers, each of whom shared their recollections of working with Dr. Walker and thanked him for the countless contributions he has made to advancing renewables over the years.
Tristan Grimbert, President and CEO of EDF Renewables North America, thanks Dr. Walker
Many spoke to Dr. Walker’s character and integrity. “Jim has always been concerned with the public interest,” noted Dr. Jan Hamrin, founder of the Center for Resource Solutions. “It’s been a pleasure to know and work with someone who never fails to take the high road and to do the right thing.”
The far-reaching effects of Dr. Walker’s efforts were a recurring theme. “Jim’s actions throughout his career have profoundly shaped the energy landscape, not only in California, but beyond,” said Diane Fellman, a co-host of the event. “We owe Jim a great debt for having had the foresight to steer all those engaged in the right direction toward addressing global climate change issues.”
“It’s important to remember that back in the 1970s and 1980s, betting on renewables was viewed as a bold gamble,” Jan McFarland, co-founder of CEERT, told the audience. “Jim had the vision to see that if executed correctly, this was a gamble that would pay off in spades.”
The speakers also praised Dr. Walker’s leadership in bringing disparate stakeholders together. “Jim has played a critical role in helping the wind industry recognize the need to be proactive about wildlife issues,” commented Jan Blomstrann, former President and CEO of NRG Systems. “He has shown us what can be accomplished if we collaborate to achieve shared goals, and we’re all committed to ensuring this important work continues.”
Reflecting on her time at the National Audubon Society, Julia Levin recalled that “Jim has a real gift for bringing together people from both sides of the wind-wildlife standoff. But the amazing thing is that he never saw it as two sides. He always saw us all as being on the same side, fighting climate change while protecting a biologically diverse and healthy environment.”
Julia’s comments were echoed by Johanna Wald, formerly with NRDC, who recognized Jim’s contribution to wind and wildlife: “Jim’s commitment to wind and wildlife was evident from the start and it was that commitment that not only brought people to the table but kept us there year after year.”
“Jim embodies the conscience of the industry, and he has pushed us to be good corporate citizens,” observed Mike Garland, CEO of Pattern Energy. “He has long emphasized that even though we’re all trying to do a good thing by expanding renewables, we need to be ahead of the curve in terms of addressing our impacts on wildlife.”
After the speakers had finished, Dr. Walker thanked them for their kind words and exhorted everyone to continue striving to help wind, solar, and energy storage expand in ways that are safe for wildlife, noting that “the next decade will be absolutely crucial” in terms of the fight against climate change.
Long-time colleagues of Dr. Walker reflected on the significance of his many contributions. “Jim’s positive impact on the U.S. wind industry, and by extension, on our shared environment, can’t be overstated,” observed Randall Swisher, former Executive Director of the American Wind Energy Association. “Were it not for his hard work and dedication over the decades, we would have much less wind today, and likely many more challenges related to wildlife conservation.”
“It’s been a real honor to have worked so closely with Jim over the years,” said Wayne Walker, AWWI’s Executive Director at its founding. “He deserves tremendous credit for recognizing the need for an independent, collaborative organization that would bring everyone to the table to discuss wind-wildlife issues. Without him, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
(Left to right) Dr. James Walker, AWWI Executive Director Abby Arnold, and AWWI Executive Director at founding Wayne Walker
At the end of the ceremony, AWWI Executive Director Abby Arnold announced the creation of the James A. Walker Future of Wind and Wildlife Fellowship, which will enable AWWI to host an exceptional and aspiring individual to conduct research related to wind-wildlife interactions. The goal of the Fellowship is to provide an opportunity to research interdisciplinary, cross-sector topics that are key to solving wind-wildlife challenges, and to foster the next generation of wind-wildlife leadership. The Fellow will work closely with AWWI staff and mentors, including Dr. Walker, at collaborating organizations to employ creative thinking and conduct cross-sector research on wind-wildlife solutions.
Proceeds from the celebration along with generous donations from many attendees will fund the initial year of the Fellowship. AWWI will advertise the Fellowship in the spring of 2019, with the intent to offer a one-year position beginning in the fall.
“The Fellowship is an important statement by those who believe in AWWI and support its mission to create a future where wind and wildlife can coexist and thrive,” remarked Tristan Grimbert, President and CEO of EDF Renewables North America. “It shows that we’re committed to developing the talent and capabilities needed to sustain this effort over the long run.”
The event wrapped up with the presentation of a personal card from former California Governor Jerry Brown to Dr. Walker that congratulated him and echoed the sentiments of the night, illustrating the reach and impact of Dr. Walker’s work.