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Wildlife Officials Concerned By Bird Deaths At Solar Power Plant

August 18, 2014
Image Credit: BrightSource Energy, Inc. (Photo by Gilles Mingasson/Getty Images for Bechtel)

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online

As many as 28,000 birds may have been killed by flying through concentrated sun rays at a solar power plant located in the Mojave Desert, experts from the Center for Biological Diversity have told the Associated Press (AP).

According to AP reporters Ellen Knickmeyer and John Locher, the birds have been nicknamed “streamers” due to plume of smoke that comes from the birds as they ignite in midair after flying through rays at the BrightSource Energy plant.

Federal wildlife investigators who visited the facility told Knickmeyer and Locher that they reported seeing an average of one “streamer” every two minutes, and are said to be petitioning state officials in California to halt development of a planned larger power plant until the full extent of the problem can be fully assessed.

While the Center for Biological Diversity said that there were an estimated 28,000 bird deaths at the plant, BrightSource officials said that there have only been around 1,000. Nonetheless, it has caused Garry George, renewable-energy director for the California chapter of the Audubon Society, to call the incident “alarming.”

George said that it was hard to determine whether it was the plant’s location or the technology used there that was responsible for the bird deaths. Jeff Holland, a spokesman for NRG Solar of Carlsbad, California – one of the three companies behind the $2.2 billion plant, said that his company is taking this issue “very seriously.”

This does not mark the first time that alternative energy facilities have come under fire for their impact on creatures and the environment. The AP said that solar farms have previously drawn fire for harming desert tortoises, while wind turbine farms have been responsible for killing birds and bats in recent years, according to various reports.

The BrightSource Energy plant launched in February and is located at Ivanpah Dry Lake near the California-Nevada border. It is reportedly the largest plant in the world to use “power towers,” featuring over 300,000 mirrors roughly the size of a garage door to reflect the sun’s rays onto three boiler towers, each of which were up to 40 stories tall.

The facility can generate enough electricity to power 140,000 homes, the AP explained, but federal wildlife officials are concerned that it might be a “mega-trap” for wildlife. They fear the bright light of the plant could attract insects, which in turn would attract bug-eating birds that are ultimately killed flying into the intense rays of light.

“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,” said Knickmeyer and Locher. “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.”

However, the officials that observed the clouds of smoke claim that they were too large to have come from anything other than a bird, adding that they witnessed “birds entering the solar flux and igniting, consequently become a streamer.” The US Fish and Wildlife have requested a death toll for a full year of operation, and George told the AP that statistics which include annual migratory seasons should be tracked before more permits are granted.

Joseph Desmond, senior vice president at BrightSource Energy, said the company is offering $1.8 million in compensation for anticipated bird deaths, and that they are attempting to find some way to help curb the number of avian fatalities at the plant. He said that they are exploring whether or not lights, sounds or some other form of technology would help scare them away.


Source: redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online



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