The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in California's Mojave Desert may be the world's largest solar thermal plant, supporting the environment with sustainable energy — but it's wreaking havoc on the wildlife population in the area. According to the Associated Press, as many as 28,000 birds burst into flames each year flying over the towers. Boy, those towers must be hot.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials visited the plant in Ivanpah last year and witnessed the birds, also known as "streamers," lighting on fire and falling from the sky. They reported that one bird is killed every two minutes, according to the AP. This has prompted an investigation into exactly how many birds have been killed since the plant opened, and delayed the construction of a larger solar plant tower facility between the Arizona-California border and Joshua Tree National Park. There, a larger bird population exists, including protected species.
The billion-dollar ISEGS facility certainly has its benefits. Roughly 300,000 mirrors are used to reflect sun rays on the three towers, which each stand 40 stories high. Water creates steam and turns turbines that power up to 140,000 homes in the area. Plus, the energy it creates eradicates carbon dioxide emissions that equal 72,000 motor vehicles each year, according to a press release from BrightSource Energy, one of the three solar plant owners alongside Google and California-based NRG Solar.
Cool, right? Well, not for the birds.
A report issued by USFWS states that most of the birds are actually being killed based on a range of exposure levels to solar flux, which causes feathers to be scorched. According to the report:
Severe singeing of flight feathers caused catastrophic loss of flying ability, leading to death by impact with the ground or other objects. Less severe singeing led to impairment of flight capability, reducing ability to forage and evade predators, leading to starvation or predation.
This "mega-trap," as USFWS officials call it, even affects the food chain. Insects are attracted to the bright lights, which causes birds to swoop down to catch them, according to the AP. State and federal biologists say the number of birds killed is significant, which is why USFWS officials want an exact number of birds killed during one calendar year. Cheery.
California Energy Commission is now reviewing another application for a similar but much larger solar plant tower facility in California. Commission staff members say this new facility would be four times as hazardous to wildlife than the original facility in Ivanpah. Plus, it would be placed in a flight path for peregrine falcons and golden eagles — two protected species — as well as 100 additional bird species, according to the AP. The commission is expected to make a decision within the next few months.
At this point, biologists don't know how to stop birds from being killed after flying near these solar tower plants — but the companies behind the towers, which include Google, NRG Solar and BrightSource Energy in this case, are trying to find a solution. Apparently, BrightSource Energy is willing to pay $1.8 million to compensate for the number of birds that would be killed by the proposed facility. Somehow, I don't think that money would really help the birds. . . .