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 »
A Russian government think tank run by Putin loyalists "developed a plan to swing the 2016 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump and undermine voters’ faith in the American electoral system." Two confidential documents from the Putin-backed Institute for Strategic Studies, obtained by U.S. intelligence, provide "the framework and rationale for what U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded was an intensive effort by Russia to interfere with the Nov. 8 election."
"The FBI last year used a dossier of allegations of Russian ties to Donald Trump's campaign as part of the justification" to monitor Carter Page, who was then a defense adviser to the Trump campaign. "The dossier has also been cited by FBI Director James Comey in some of his briefings to members of Congress in recent weeks."
"The Air Force is set to deploy its high-tech, fifth-generation F-35A fighter jets to Europe this weekend as part of an effort to assure U.S. allies there who are worried about Russian aggression." The new, state-of-the-art fighters will train with European air units. "The Pentagon noted that the deployment had been long planned, meaning it was not a reaction to recent increasing tensions between the United States and Russia," although a statement noted the move is part of the "European Reassurance Initiative," which began three years ago when Russia annexed Crimea.