Posts

Showing posts with the label birds

Ivanpah Bird Mortality Report Released; Data on Separate Project Kept Secret

Image
Biologists estimate that as many as 1,314 birds died at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) - a solar power tower project that also burns natural gas - from 25 May to 17 August 2015 based on partial searches of the sprawling facility.  Many of the birds died from collision with giant mirrors or after flying through zones of intense heat above the project.  The deaths last summer are in addition to thousands of others caused by the project since it was constructed.

During last summer at least two birds - a peregrine falcon and common raven - were severely burned by the project but still managed to fly close to the project's outer edge before dying, again suggesting that the study may underestimate the number of birds burned in the air space above the field of mirrors.  The peregrine falcon was found in July and euthanized in September; the raven was found already dead.


According to a previous monitoring report, two other birds with burned feathers were found inciden…

Bird Deaths at Ivanpah Solar Project Likely Underestimated

Image
Birds with severely singed feathers are travelling over a half-mile from the center of the Ivanpah Solar project before falling to the ground, indicating that current research efforts are incapable of accounting for the full scope of project-related avian fatality.  Abengoa recently withdrew plans for a similar "power tower" project after acknowledging concerns about the technology's impact on wildlife, but also suggesting that the technology's benefits are uncertain and unreliable.

Birds Dying Beyond the Reach of Research?

Efforts to determine how many birds are killed by the project involve carcass surveys of only 29% of the project area and do not involve significant searches of the desert surrounding the Ivanpah Solar project's boundary.  According to the 2014-2015 Winter Report for the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System Avian & Bat Monitoring Plan, (covering 21 October 2014 to 15 March 2015), seven birds with singed feathers were found far from the…

DRECP Fact of the Day: Eagles

Image
Golden eagles soar over the Mojave Desert. We know that wind turbines and golden eagles do not mix well.  Solar power towers - like those that BrightSource and NRG built in the Ivanpah Valley - can burn eagles alive.  And sprawling photovoltaic solar plants can destroy the wildlands where golden eagles like to forage for food.   The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is responsible for monitoring the status of the golden eagle, and determining whether or not any industry - including the renewable energy industry - is permitted to "take" (harass or kill) golden eagles.  (Note: the golden eagle is not an endangered species, but it is protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act)

According to Appendix H of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), the FWS has determined that the total number of golden eagles that can be "taken" each year in the California desert is 15.  (Appendix H, page H-28)  According to the draft DRECP:
"This number…

Article Exposes Shallow Depth of Energy Discussion

Image
An article grossly mischaracterizing the current state of research into avian mortality at BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar project quickly exposed the difference between rally-around-the-flag cheerleaders and those seeking to ensure renewable energy follows a sustainable path.  The piece by David Baker published on the San Francisco Chronicle website notes that only 321 dead birds were found at BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar project from January to June, and casts doubt on the work of scientist Shawn Smallwood who estimated that Ivanpah may kill as many as 28,000 birds per year; Smallwood's estimate was cited in an Associated Press story bringing attention to the incineration of birds at Ivanpah.  David Baker's piece regurgitates a BrightSource Energy press release, and the Associated Press article cites testimony by Smallwood, a scientist who has been published in dozens of peer-reviewed publications and reports.

The Chair of the California Democratic Party&#…

Ivanpah's Toll on Wildlife Mounts

Image
According to reports sent monthly to the California Energy Commission, the NRG and BrightSource Ivanpah Solar project in California continues to incinerate and batter birds and bats, even though the plant is often not running at full capacity.   As many as 165 birds and four bats have been found dead on the project site from February to the end of April, and 6 birds have been found injured.  These numbers are probably only a fraction of the total mortality since surveys cannot cover the whole project site, and it is possible some birds and bats die after flying beyond the project boundary or their carcasses are picked up by scavengers.  As KCET ReWire points out, some of the bird deaths in April were water birds, suggesting they may have flown to the shimmering mirrors of the solar project thinking it was a body of water.




Many of the birds were killed after being burned by the super-heated air above the project site, while others likely collided with one of the thousands of giant mirr…

BrightSource Makes Weak Case for Palen Solar Project

Image
BrightSource Energy filed a relatively weak argument for why the California Energy Commission (CEC) should reconsider its opinion of the Palen Solar project in the Colorado Desert region of southern California.  A Presiding Member Proposed Decision in December recommended that the full Commission reject the project primarily because of the impacts on wildlife, but BrightSource requested more time so that it could make a stronger case that its project would not be a problem for wildlife.

The data submitted by BrightSource suggests its design is likely more harmful to birds than other types of technology, and that if the Palen project is built it would add significantly to the cumulative impact on birds in the Chuckwalla Valley region and pose new dangers.   The data submitted by BrightSource compares bird mortality at its Ivanpah Solar project - located further north near Las Vegas - to the Genesis and Desert Sunlight Solar projects in the Chuckwalla Valley area.  In the few months tha…

Destructive Ivanpah Solar Project To Finally Start Operations

Image
Government officials and executives are expected to flip the switch on the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System on February 13, over three years after BrightSource Energy and its lead investor, NRG, began bulldozing pristine desert to build the project.   During the 3+ years it took these companies to replace over 5.6 square miles of intact ecosystem to build 377 megawatts of solar capacity, Californians have added at least twice as much solar capacity with panels installed on rooftops or over parking lots, and even more capacity has been added with utility-scale projects built on already-disturbed lands.

Years of public relations efforts by NRG and BrightSource have not changed the fact that the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the eastern Mojave Desert arguably represents one of the most destructive renewable energy projects permitted on public lands by the Obama administration.  The Ivanpah Solar project is to the Mojave what oil drilling would be to the Arctic Natio…

Waking up to the Solar Power Tower Threat

Image
As BrightSource Energy began to bulldoze approximately 5.6 square miles of pristine desert to build its Ivanpah Solar power project, we quickly learned the impact on terrestrial species - rare wildflowers, long-lived yucca plants, and desert tortoises were displaced or killed.   Now that the Ivanpah Solar project is powering on, thousands of mirrors focusing the sun's rays at three towers have burned or battered dozens of birds in the first couple of months of becoming operational.  Chris Clarke with KCET's ReWire has been reporting on the troubling new trend - dead birds being found after colliding with mirrors or burning to death in super-heated air over the project.  We need to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy, but we need to do so in a way that minimizes (not expands) the human threat to ecosystems and wildlife.  The vast majority of BrightSource Energy's negative impacts on wildlife could have been avoided if we invested more in solar panels on rooftops, or…

BrightSource Palen Solar Project Moving Through Environmental Review

Image
The California Energy Commission (CEC) this month published part of its Final Staff Assessment for BrightSource Energy's Palen Solar power project.  After evidentiary hearings this fall, the CEC plans to decide whether to approve the project proposed for the Chuckwalla Valley between Indio and Blythe, resulting in the destruction of up to 5.9 square miles of desert habitat that currently hosts kit foxes, Mojave fringe-toed lizards, and burrowing owls.  Biologists are concerned that the project would not only disrupt sand transport through the valley that sustains fringe-toed lizard habitat, but also pose a collision and burn risk to a variety of birds, from golden eagles to the endangered Yuma clapper rail.
The size of the project is difficult to imagine, so I provide a comparison of the project footprint (red overlay, below) to the city of Palm Springs.  BrightSource Energy says the facility would generate 500 megawatts of energy through steam boilers positioned on two 750-foot t…

Desert Solar Killing Water Birds

Image
Birds that are typically only found along rivers and at lakes are turning up dead at industrial-scale solar plants in the middle of the desert, according to KCET's ReWire, probably dying of thirst or collision with reflective solar panels.  The birds almost certainly are attracted to the facilities from far away because the field of reflective solar panels or troughs appear as a body of water. 

KCET's ReWire did some research and found that 37 dead or injured birds have been found at the newly-constructed Desert Sunlight (built by First Solar) and Genesis (built by NextEra) solar projects near Joshua Tree National Park.  More than half of the birds are water birds, possibly straying from their normal habitat at the Salton Sea or Colorado River dozens of miles away.  An endangered Yuma clapper rail was found at First Solar's Desert Sunlight solar project, which is at least 35 miles from the bird's nearest habitat.  It is not clear if more birds have already been killed…

Laws Not Enforced as Wind Industry Kills More Birds and Bats

Image
The Associated Press published a thorough article examining the number of eagles and other protected birds being killed by wind energy projects -- many built on remote wildlands -- and highlighting the Department of Interior's unwillingness to hold the wind industry accountable to laws meant to protect wildlife.   With over 573,000 birds killed by wind turbines each year,  according to the Wildlife Society Bulletin, as well as a significant number of bats, the Department of Interior can only point to superficial and voluntary guidelines that the wind industry continues to ignore.

Some environmentalists attempt to downplay the problem, as Sierra Club editor Paul Rauber did in a Sierra magazine article earlier this year that described hundreds of thousands of bird deaths each year as "trivial."  The wind industry responded to the Associated Press article with the same argument employed by Mr. Rauber, stating that buildings, cars, and cats kill even more birds each year.  …

Another Golden Eagle Killed by Industry

Image
Basin and Range Watch learned from the Bureau of Land Management that another golden eagle was killed, this time at the Spring Valley Wind project built in Nevada's Great Basin desert.  The project -- owned by Pattern Energy -- was built on remote desert wildlands despite concerns from environmental organizations that it could jeopardize a large population of Mexican free-tailed bats.  Spring Valley Wind began operations last year. The wind project is only permitted to kill one eagle, and another eagle death could require the project to curtail operations, although enforcement and compliance are doubtful.

The golden eagle death in Nevada occurs less than two months after NextEra's North Sky River wind project in California killed its first golden eagle, only weeks after beginning operations in the Tehachapi Mountains.  The North Sky River wind project industrialized potential California condor habitat, and was built despite objections from environmental groups (Defenders of Wi…

Sierra Club Publication Promotes Industry Over Wildlife

After flipping through the pages of the Sierra Club's latest issue of Sierra magazine, I am left with a deep disappointment as the organization -- of which I am a member -- continues to sound more like an industry lobby group than a conservation organization.   Much of the March/April issue is dedicated to exulting the wind industry, with less than a page of material that provides a weak description of the industry's impact on wildlife and wildlands, describing the death of birds and bats by wind turbines as "trivial," and placing a lot of optimistic emphasis on the industry's ability to self-regulate.  As another blogger put it, "Not From The Onion: Sierra Magazine’s All-Wind Issue."

The Sierra Club's communication team cannot seem to promote renewable energy while adhering to a conservation ethic, despite ample opportunities to do so, suggesting the wind industry carries substantial influence over the organization and that the battle to eliminate h…

Trivializing Loss of Life to Defend Industry

I am looking forward to the next issue of Sierra magazine because it will feature an article regarding the wind industry's impacts on birds and bats.  The author, Paul Rauber, wrote a good piece in the last issue on distributed generation, and some of the policy reforms necessary to expand deployment of community solar.  However, as I pointed out earlier this week, Mr. Rauber thought that a graphic and article published by Mother Jones comparing bird mortality by wind turbines to bird mortality by cats was a useful piece of information to share with the Sierra Club's thousands of followers in a separate piece published on the Club's website.  The Mother Jones article and graphic not only portray the loss of 440,000 birds a year as trivial, but also suggests that enforcement of bird conservation law on the wind industry is a tool of renewable energy "opponents."  The article boils down two complex and different problems into an unsophisticated and kitschy graphic …

Sierra Club Senior Staff Dismissive of Industry Impacts

Image
Pet cats kill 1.4 to 3.7  billion birds in the US each year, according to a study conducted by scientists with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the Fish and Wildlife Service.  This is a significant problem that bird conservation groups have tried to address for years, although the revised numbers are very startling.   Unfortunately, this disaster is used by some industry advocates to belittle another cause of avian mortality -- wind turbines.  Sierra Club senior editor Paul Rauber broadcast a Tweet and a blog post this week giving credence to this false logic, implying that if one cause of bird mortality is significantly greater than another, the lesser cause can be ignored.

In a Tweet featuring a chart comparing annual bird mortality by wind turbines to bird mortality by cats, Mr. Rauber stated: "If bird fatalities are an argument against wind power, say goodbye first to Puss."  Mr. Rauber apparently found the infographic from another organization's tw…