It’s Not Just Wind Turbines and Oil Spills — Solar Power Kills Birds, Too

When it comes to energy harvesting, our avian friends just can’t catch a break.

Fly away, fly away!
National Journal
Emma Roller
Add to Briefcase
Emma Roller
May 1, 2014, 8:01 a.m.

Some birds just can’t res­ist fly­ing too close to the sun — and burn­ing to death in the pro­cess.

In Cali­for­nia’s Mo­jave Desert, a sol­ar-en­ergy plant is caus­ing birds to burst in­to flames and fall out of the sky, like tiny fight­er jets. A re­port from the Na­tion­al Fish and Wild­life Forensics Labor­at­ory on the Ivan­pah Sol­ar Elec­tric Gen­er­at­ing Sys­tem found that the fa­cil­ity’s sol­ar pan­el ar­ray has a deadly side ef­fect for loc­al wild­life.

Bloomberg de­scribes how the fa­cil­ity’s sol­ar-en­ergy har­vest­ing pro­cess works:

An ar­ray of 300,000 mir­rors cov­er­ing 3,500 acres fo­cus the sun’s rays on three 460-foot towers. The towers con­tain a li­quid that, when heated, powers steam tur­bines. Those tur­bines in turn pro­duce enough elec­tri­city for about 140,000 homes, without green­house gases or oth­er emis­sions.

What no one seems to have coun­ted on was how the fa­cil­ity, de­veloped by Bright­Source En­ergy Inc., would af­fect the en­vir­on­ment. We now know the an­swer: It at­tracts birds and kills them.

How it hap­pens: First, in­sects are drawn to the re­flect­ive light of the sol­ar mir­rors. That draws small, in­sect-eat­ing birds, which in turn draw lar­ger pred­at­ory birds. The rays of the mir­rors’ re­flec­ted light pro­duces tem­per­at­ures from 800 de­grees to 1,000 de­grees Fahren­heit. Any an­im­al caught in the in­tense glare of the mir­ror’s rays may catch fire and plum­met to­ward the ground, or spon­tan­eously com­bust al­to­geth­er.

The re­port has found that at least 141 birds have died at the Ivan­pah fa­cil­ity. This sort of stat­ist­ic is bad news for sus­tain­able-en­ergy ad­voc­ates, who of­ten weath­er at­tacks from con­ser­vat­ives that wind tur­bines kill birds, too. A sur­vey of sci­entif­ic lit­er­at­ure put tur­bine-re­lated bird deaths at some­where between 140,000 and 328,000 each year.

But it’s worth keep­ing these num­bers in per­spect­ive. In the six months after the BP oil spill in 2010 — when 4.9 mil­lion bar­rels of crude oil leaked in­to the Gulf of Mex­ico — more than 7,000 birds were col­lec­ted in the spill area, and more than 3,000 were coated in oil, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tion­al Wild­life Fed­er­a­tion. Up to 23,000 birds could have been killed by the spill, ac­cord­ing to an es­tim­ate in Audu­bon Magazine. It’s also es­tim­ated that 225,000 birds died from the Ex­xon Valdez spill in 1989.

No mat­ter what form it takes — wind, sol­ar, or oil — en­ergy har­vest­ing rarely be­ne­fits our avi­an friends. Even deep un­der­ground, birds can be­come en­ergy cas­u­al­ties — just look at the ca­nary in the coal mine.

What We're Following See More »
SANS PROOF
NRA Chief: Leftist Protesters Are Paid
1 hours ago
UPDATE
EXECUTIVE ORDER
Trump: Agencies Should Recommend Regulations to Repeal
2 hours ago
THE DETAILS
NEW TRAVEL BAN COMING SOON
Trump Still on Campaign Rhetoric
3 hours ago
UPDATE
“WE’RE CHANGING IT”
Trump Rails On Obamacare
3 hours ago
UPDATE

After spending a few minutes re-litigating the Democratic primary, Donald Trump turned his focus to Obamacare. “I inherited a mess, believe me. We also inherited a failed healthcare law that threatens our medical system with absolute and total catastrophe” he said. “I’ve been watching and nobody says it, but Obamacare doesn’t work.” He finished, "so we're going to repeal and replace Obamacare."

FAKE NEWS
Trump Goes After The Media
4 hours ago
UPDATE

Donald Trump lobbed his first attack at the “dishonest media” about a minute into his speech, saying that the media would not appropriately cover the standing ovation that he received. “We are fighting the fake news,” he said, before doubling down on his previous claim that the press is “the enemy of the people." However, he made a distinction, saying that he doesn't think all media is the enemy, just the "fake news."

×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login