Ivanpah-solar

California Solar Plant Kills 30 Birds an Hour

The workers call them “streamers.” Hapless birds that fly over a massive California solar array, only to be immolated in midair, leaving a brief plume of smoke and a medium-well carcass.

BrightSource Energy’s state-of-the-art plant in the Mojave Desert is the largest solar thermal power plant on earth — and the deadliest.

Federal wildlife officials counted an average of one “streamer” every two minutes. The energy company estimates that only 1,000 birds are scorched each year, while a prominent environmental group puts the number at 28,000.

Federal and state biologists call the number of deaths significant, based on sightings of birds getting singed and falling, and on retrieval of carcasses with feathers charred too severely for flight.

Ivanpah officials dispute the source of the so-called streamers, saying at least some of the puffs of smoke mark insects and bits of airborne trash being ignited by the solar rays.

Wildlife officials who witnessed the phenomena say many of the clouds of smoke were too big to come from anything but a bird, and they add that they saw “birds entering the solar flux and igniting, consequently become a streamer.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials say they want a death toll for a full year of operation.

Given the apparent scale of bird deaths at Ivanpah, authorities should thoroughly track bird kills there for a year, including during annual migratory seasons, before granting any more permits for that kind of solar technology, said [Garry] George, of the Audubon Society.

The facility has concerned environmentalists in the past, as its construction bladed over 3,500 acres of virgin desert. Being California, the state government required BrightSource to relocate a bunch of desert gopher tortoises to the tune of $22 million. The installation also endangers pilots flying the busy Los Angeles–Las Vegas corridor; they can be dazzled by the intense light.

It remains to be seen if regulators will stop the plant’s operation, but at least the world’s largest bug zapper should educate environmentalists and green energy boosters.

For too long, the public has been told that energy production is less a matter of physics than one of morality. Renewable energy like solar and wind are sold as “good” while reliable energy sources like oil and coal are “evil.” Methods like hydroelectric, nuclear and natural gas all were initially sold as clean and green, but became demonized the instant they turned a profit or revealed unintended consequences.

Per Thomas Sowell, “there are no solutions, only trade-offs.” Oil and coal are dirty, but they’re cheap and efficient. Dams are dangerous to build, but reliable and prevent flooding downstream. They also create man-made reservoirs, which environmentalists alternately love and hate.

Nuclear produces vast amounts of energy and emits only water vapor, but holds the risk of radiation and long-term storage. Currently, solar and wind produce minimal energy at high cost — both in financial terms and, apparently, avian longevity rates. Yet both are renewable and are a great option for certain applications (especially off-the-grid living).

Hopefully, BrightSource Energy will solve the “streamer” issue and help make solar a viable energy source for the future. But all energy consumers should heed the advice of expert Thomas Conroy:

When it comes to powering the country’s grids, “diversity of technology … is critical,” Conroy said. “Nobody should be arguing let’s be all coal, all solar,” all wind, or all nuclear. “And every one of those technologies has a long list of pros and cons.”

  1. Casey

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: Nobody should be arguing let’s be all coal,

     Except birds. 

  2. Larry3435

    Well, if the ornithicide is sustainable, I suppose it’s all right.  Unless, of course, they emit carbon when they are flash-fried.

  3. Amy Schley

    Casey:

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: Nobody should be arguing let’s be all coal,

    Except birds.

     And cats who prefer their birds raw.

  4. John Walker

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: Hopefully, BrightSource Energy will solve the “streamer” issue and help make solar a viable energy source for the future.

    I’m not sure how the problem could be solved, unless somebody comes up with a way to deter the birds from flying into the zone where the solar energy is concentrated.  (Playing ABBA at 120 dB?   But that would probably cause the tortoises to cease from mating or decide life just wasn’t worth living.)

    I’ve got it!  Only operate the plant at night.

  5. Bob W

    The wind turbans are also contributing. Estimated 573,00 birds and 888,000 bats in 2012.  Oh yeah, in 2011 the feds prosecuted seven oil companies for 28 bird deaths in oil waste pits.

  6. Valiuth

    Man, if only there was a mechanism by which animals could adapt to new adversities within the environment. Then we wouldn’t have to mollycoddle them so much. 

    I once sat through a talk given by a scientist studying the diverse species of salmon that live in the rivers of Western America. When we started creating hydroelectric dams we altered the river patterns that these fish had been adapted to, leading to poor spawning rates. Oddly enough after several generations the fish population became mostly dominated by adults more suited to the new spawning conditions and numbers began to swell. By this time though we had grown a conscience and decided to repent our river altering ways. The end result is that once again the fish were ill suited to the new “old” conditions. The irony of the situation seemed lost on him and others who worried about preserving those fish. 

    I say let the birds figure out how not to get fired it’s their problem after all.

  7. GLDIII

    Bob W:

    The wind turbans are also contributing. Estimated 573,00 birds and 888,000 bats in 2012. Oh yeah, in 2011 the feds prosecuted seven oil companies for 28 bird deaths in oil waste pits.

    Wind turbans?

    4531772193_6167bc0ef2_z

  8. Yeah...ok.

    Same thing happened to Icarus.

    Or maybe, rather than GLOBAL, this is a result of extremely LOCAL warming.

  9. Seawriter

    That’s the wildest roasted bird story I have heard of since Operation Blue Peacock.  Of course, since that weapon was never deployed, no chickens ever got flash-fried as described above.

    (The entry had a link to the Strategy & Tactics magazine in which my article on the project appeared.  Go to page 33.)

    Seawriter

  10. Valiuth

    Yeah…ok.:

    Same thing happened to Icarus.

    Or maybe, rather than GLOBAL, this is a result of extremely LOCAL warming.

     Actually. if I am not mistaken the problem of the birds is not that they are flying too high but rather too low. 

  11. Ralphie

    The only pro for a windmill is the fact it is as capable as a wind sail in producing energy. And as dependable. There is a good reason the shipping industry went from sails to steam and fossil fuels.

  12. Duncan Winn

    If we had large solar arrays in orbit and beamed the power back to earth as microwaves, there would be no bird deaths.

  13. Duncan Winn

    The sun never sets up there, and there is never any weather blocking the sun either.

  14. John Walker

    Duncan Winn: If we had large solar arrays in orbit and beamed the power back to earth as microwaves, there would be no bird deaths.

    See The Case for Space Solar Power.  I was savaged for this.

  15. James Gawron

    John Walker:

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: Hopefully, BrightSource Energy will solve the “streamer” issue and help make solar a viable energy source for the future.

    I’m not sure how the problem could be solved, unless somebody comes up with a way to deter the birds from flying into the zone where the solar energy is concentrated. (Playing ABBA at 120 dB? But that would probably cause the tortoises to cease from mating or decide life just wasn’t worth living.)

    I’ve got it! Only operate the plant at night.

     John & Jon,

    Here here, let’s ban all that darn nuclear and coal this minute.  Let’s stop that fracking too.  No one’s found anything wrong about it but I’m sure they will.  You know those battery plants are real polluters too.  Let’s command the engineers to invent battery-less electric cars.  If they won’t let’s stop all that nonsense.  Gasoline simple, we’ll tax it into oblivion.  When we make it really really expensive why surely someone will come up with something else.  Something renewable or maybe just really cool like flubber!

    You know what the problem is?  It’s all that straight line thinking.  Who says the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  That Euclid was probably a Republican!  I think we should just declare that a meandering curve is the shortest distance between two points.  Sure get Congress to pass a law.  Well if they won’t do it how about a Supreme Court decision in favor of the meandering curve.  If they won’t do it the President has a pen and a phone.

    We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.  (Hey listen me I’ve been standing here waiting for myself for hours.  At least you could have texted me!  Some alter ego you turned out to be.)

    GoooGibbleGabbleBlatterBurpBaaaarrrrrfffff!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Regards,

    Jim

  16. Casey

    Amy Schley:

    Casey:

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: Nobody should be arguing let’s be all coal,

    Except birds.

    And cats who prefer their birds raw.

     Saber-toothed sickos. 

  17. barbara lydick

    Those who complain the loudest about decreasing natural habitats, and then without a moment’s thought cheer the loudest for renewable sources of energy, never really see the big picture and the consequences thereof.  Probably because both are feel good positions that need no rationalization other than that.

    The fact that so much land is required for solar – and much more for wind – does not enter their equation (not to mention that each requires conventional power backup sources).  And now the solar installation destruction of huge numbers of birds.  We knew about the wind turbines and EPA’s 30-year waiver given to those operators.  Will solar installation operators get the same preferential treatment – even if a reasonable solution is found (which assuredly won’t be 100%)?  

    If so, will people finally begin to think rationally about trade-offs with respect to viable energy sources?

  18. barbara lydick

    Jon (or anyone):

    Do you know where they are getting the water to clean those puppies at the Mojave Desert installation?  Do they truck it in or were water mains put in?  I understand that weekly washings are needed for optimal efficiency.  That plus a bi-monthly dousing with special chemicals.  And is that water that might have been used for the farmers in the Central Valley?  Hmmm.  Delta smelt, salmon, and (now possibly) solar.  Those farmers haven’t a chance.

  19. Paul DeRocco

    I have the solution:
    scarecrow
    Just don’t try to make it out of straw.

    (I got a couple of good shots of this installation, which you can see here:
    http://www.pbase.com/pderocco/image/153978187/original
    http://www.pbase.com/pderocco/image/153978186/original)

  20. Paul DeRocco

    barbara lydick: Do you know where they are getting the water to clean those puppies at the Mojave Desert installation? Do they truck it in or were water mains put in? I understand that weekly washings are needed for optimal efficiency. That plus a bi-monthly dousing with special chemicals. And is that water that might have been used for the farmers in the Central Valley? Hmmm. Delta smelt, salmon, and (now possibly) solar. Those farmers haven’t a chance.

    I would think they’d get the water from the water table. Ivanpah is a desert sink, so there’s water down there. If they wash the mirrors at night, and let the water drain back into the ground, they’d only lose a fraction to evaporation, and the bulk would return to the water table. Dunno what that fraction actually is, though.

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