Permalink to California Solar Plant Kills 30 Birds an Hour

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.”

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Members have made 39 comments.

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  1. Profile photo of Casey Member

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

     Except birds. 

    • #1
    • August 18, 2014 at 4:20 pm
  2. Profile photo of Larry3435 Member

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

    • #2
    • August 18, 2014 at 4:24 pm
  3. Profile photo of Amy Schley Member

    Casey:

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

    Except birds.

     And cats who prefer their birds raw.

    • #3
    • August 18, 2014 at 4:29 pm
  4. Profile photo of John Walker Contributor

    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.

    • #4
    • August 18, 2014 at 4:36 pm
  5. Profile photo of Bob W Member

    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.

    • #5
    • August 18, 2014 at 4:43 pm
  6. Profile photo of Valiuth Member

    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.

    • #6
    • August 18, 2014 at 4:56 pm
  7. Profile photo of GLDIII Reagan

    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

    • #7
    • August 18, 2014 at 4:58 pm
  8. Profile photo of Yeah...ok. Member

    Same thing happened to Icarus.

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

    • #8
    • August 18, 2014 at 5:42 pm
  9. Profile photo of Seawriter Member

    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

    • #9
    • August 18, 2014 at 5:50 pm
  10. Profile photo of Valiuth Member

    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. 

    • #10
    • August 18, 2014 at 5:59 pm
  11. Profile photo of Ralphie Member

    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.

    • #11
    • August 18, 2014 at 5:59 pm
  12. Profile photo of Duncan Winn Member

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

    • #12
    • August 18, 2014 at 6:21 pm
  13. Profile photo of Duncan Winn Member

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

    • #13
    • August 18, 2014 at 6:22 pm
  14. Profile photo of John Walker Contributor

    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.

    • #14
    • August 18, 2014 at 6:28 pm
  15. Profile photo of James Gawron Coolidge

    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

    • #15
    • August 18, 2014 at 6:38 pm
  16. Profile photo of Casey Member

    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. 

    • #16
    • August 18, 2014 at 6:58 pm
  17. Profile photo of barbara lydick Member

    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?

    • #17
    • August 18, 2014 at 8:30 pm
  18. Profile photo of barbara lydick Member

    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.

    • #18
    • August 18, 2014 at 8:43 pm
  19. Profile photo of Paul DeRocco Member

    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.

    • #20
    • August 18, 2014 at 9:08 pm
  20. Profile photo of MarciN Member

    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.

     And these people are worried about DDT?

    • #21
    • August 18, 2014 at 9:47 pm
  21. Profile photo of MarciN Member

    The landfills on Cape Cod where I live had a problem with seagulls. The landfill managers found that stringing a grid of clear fishing line across the landfill area kept the birds out. Then when the town of Orleans had a similar problem with cormorants congregating and multiplying and consequently polluting a local estuary, the town of Orleans tried the same clear string approach, and it worked there too.

    Maybe the solar panel fields will have to be smaller so that bird deterrents can be built into the site designs.

    • #22
    • August 18, 2014 at 9:54 pm
  22. Profile photo of KC Mulville Member

    I just think we have too many birds anyway.

    • #23
    • August 18, 2014 at 10:17 pm
  23. Profile photo of Manny Inactive

    What an outrage. I say burn the environmental whackos. We can use less of them. Maybe they’ll go extinct.

    • #24
    • August 19, 2014 at 4:10 am
  24. Profile photo of Instugator Thatcher

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.:

    Nuclear produces vast amounts of energy and emits only water vapor, but holds the risk of radiation and long-term storage. 

    Except for Liquid Thorium Fluoride Reactors.

    • #25
    • August 19, 2014 at 4:20 am
  25. Profile photo of Casey Member

    KC Mulville:

    I just think we have too many birds anyway.


    You’re despicable!

    daffy14

    • #26
    • August 19, 2014 at 6:09 am
  26. Profile photo of Seawriter Member

    Think how useful this device could be for punishing apostates from the Church of Gaia. Much more environmentally friendly than the old-fashioned executioner’s pyre.

    Seawriter.

    • #27
    • August 19, 2014 at 6:14 am
  27. Profile photo of Randy Weivoda Thatcher

    Oh no, not 3,500 acres of virgin desert! Otherwise known as wasteland.

    • #28
    • August 19, 2014 at 6:35 am
  28. Profile photo of donald todd Member

    Lets see.

    If the birds learn to fly at night, the prodigy in the desert won’t affect them. However should the prodigy in the desert learn to work at all hours, sun or no, then we’ll have electrical service at all hours, such as at night when people turn on lights and fire up the telly. It will continue to be tough on birds but…. that’s life.

    If the wind learns to blow all the time, and the big bladed wind turbines can be kept on line all the time, then the big bladed wind turbines will provide electrical service at all hours, such as when the wind is not blowing for them but when we need electricity to flow into our homes and businesses.

    And if the birds can learn not to fly into the wind turbine blades, then we won’t have problems with dead birds littering the pristine landscape around that wonderful albeit limited technology. Maybe the birds can learn to fly through the area when the wind is not blowing.

    • #29
    • August 19, 2014 at 7:07 am
  29. Profile photo of John Davey Member

    Green, green, green. Environment, environment, environment. Save the Earth! Why do you hate nature? 

    Ahem – Now witness the firepower of this fully ARMED and OPERATIONAL battle station!

    • #30
    • August 19, 2014 at 7:50 am
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