Share

New Solar Power Plants are Incinerating Birds

August 18, 2014

Thousands of birds are flying into a new solar "mega-trap" in the middle of California's Mojave Desert, killing the avian lot at a rate of up to one bird every two minutes, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

The state-of-the-art Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS), which opened in February, is the world's largest solar plant to utilize "power towers,"  skyscraping structures that receive beams of focused solar rays to generate electricity.

At Ivanpah, the sun's ray's are redirected from a sea of more than 300,000 mirrors on the desert surface below to hit water filled boilers atop three 459-foot "power towers."  Temperatures near the towers can climb to 800 degrees, which causes the water to produce steam that turns turbines which generate energy.

All told, the facility at Ivanpah generates enough electricity to power 140,000 homes and eliminates carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to 72,000 vehicles a year, according to a press release from Bright Source Energy, one of the trio of investors behind the solar plant.

That sort of renewable energy source might seem like a triumph for the environment, but the same super-heated skyscrapers that generate renewable electricity are also taking a toll on wildlife in the area.

According to the Associated Press, up to 28,000 birds per year might be meeting an early death after burning up in the focused beams of sunlight, with birds dying at a rate of one bird every two minutes. The burned-up birds are being dubbed "streamers," after the poof of smoke produced by the igniting birds.

A report by the USFWS states that most of the birds are dying from various levels of exposure to "solar flux" which causes "singeing of feathers."

"Severe singeing of flight feathers caused catastrophic loss of flying ability, leading to death by impact with the ground or other objects," the report states. "Less severe singeing led to impairment of flight capability, reducing ability to forage and evade predators, leading to starvation or predation."

A quasi-food chain is being established around the solar plant, with predators eating birds and bats that burn up in the plant's solar rays chasing after insects which are attracted to the bright light from the sun's reflected rays. That prompted wildlife officials to refer to Ivanpah as a "mega-trap" for wildlife.

Unfortunately, the USFWS doesn't yet know the full extent of the solar facility's impact on bird populations, and is calling for a full year study of the death toll at the site before the plant's operators are allowed to construct an even bigger "power tower" solar plant between Joshua Tree National Park and the California-Arizona border, the Associated Press reports.

The proposed facility would have a power tower nearly twice the size of the ones found at Ivanpah and is located in an area with more than 100 species of birds, including protected species like golden eagles and peregrine falcons. Officials estimate that if the plant were built it would be nearly four times deadly to avian species than the solar plant at Ivanpah.

A spokesperson for NRG Solar, another one of the companies behind Ivanpah told the Associated Press that "we take this issue very seriously." So far, the only remedy appears to be cash. BrightSource has anted up $1.8 million to compensate for bird deaths and the trio of companies behind the project is looking into potential solutions to stop wildlife from colliding with the solar plant.

MORE: The Ivanpah Solar plant

Featured Blogs

Top Ten Weather Stories of 2014

By Dr. Jeff Masters
December 23, 2014

The top ten weather stories of 2014 include: #1: Earth Likely Had Its Warmest Year on Record; #2: Monsoon Floods in the India-Pakistan Border Region Kill 648; #3: India's Cyclone Hudhud Does $11 Billion in Damage; #4: Southeastern Brazil's Worst Drought in 50 years; and #5: The California Drought.

November 2014 Global Weather Extremes Summary

By Christopher C. Burt
December 18, 2014

November was globally the 7th warmest such on record according to NOAA and 8th according to NASA (see Jeff Master’s blog for more about this). It was a cold month in the U.S. with some phenomenal lake-effect snowstorms. A powerful storm, dubbed a ‘Medicane’ formed in the Mediterranean Sea. Deadly floods occurred in Morocco, Italy, and Switzerland. It was the warmest November on record for Australia, Italy, Austria and much of Southeast Asia.Below are some of the month’s highlights.

Live Blog: Tracking Hurricane Arthur as it Approaches North Carolina Coast

By Shaun Tanner
July 3, 2014

This is a live blog set up to provide the latest coverage on Hurricane Arthur as it threatens the North Carolina Coast. Check back often to see what the latest is with Arthur. The most recent updates are at the top.

Tropical Terminology

By Stu Ostro
June 30, 2014

Here is some basic, fundamental terminology related to tropical cyclones. Rather than a comprehensive and/or technical glossary, this represents the essence of the meaning & importance of some key, frequently used terms.

2013-14 - An Interesting Winter From A to Z

By Tom Niziol
May 15, 2014

It was a very interesting winter across a good part of the nation from the Rockies through the Plains to the Northeast. Let's break down the most significant winter storms on a month by month basis.

What the 5th IPCC Assessment Doesn't Include

By Angela Fritz
September 27, 2013

Melting permafrost has the potential to release an additional 1.5 trillion tons of carbon into the atmosphere, and could increase our global average temperature by 1.5°F in addition to our day-to-day human emissions. However, this effect is not included in the IPCC report issued Friday morning, which means the estimates of how Earth's climate will change are likely on the conservative side.