BrightSource Energy Design Too Risky for Wildlife

BrightSource Energy's plans to build the Palen Solar power project in the California desert were cast in doubt last week when the California Energy Commission (CEC) proposed to deny a permit for the facility because of its impacts on wildlife.  The denial could spell doom for BrightSource Energy, which has invested heavily in a solar power plant design that has become notorious for its troubling impacts on wildlife -  destroying rare plants and habitat for terrestrial wildlife, and burning birds to death.
  • BrightSource's Palen project would involve thousands of mirrors spread out over nearly 5.9 square miles to focus the sun's energy to heat boilers on the top of two towers - each over 750 feet tall.  The focused energy would create super-heated pockets of air; the super-heated air created at the company's Ivanpah Solar project in the Mojave Desert has already killed dozens of birds.
BrightSource paid experts and lawyers to urge the CEC to approve its Palen Solar project, claiming that the impacts of its solar plant design can be "mitigated."  But BrightSource became its own worst enemy.   Once BrightSource completed construction and began testing its Ivanpah Solar project - which the CEC approved in 2010 - the public became aware of surprising levels of environmental destruction that the company previously tried to downplay through aggressive public relations and outreach.  BrightSource ignored environmentalists in 2008 and 2009 who argued that the location of its Ivanpah Solar project served as prime desert tortoise habitat that should not be disturbed.  The company ended up displacing or killing over 140 desert tortoises - far above initial estimates and surprising the Fish and Wildlife Service.  The Ivanpah facility has also burned dozens of birds, including warblers, swallows, gnatcatchers, raptors and doves.

BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar project destroyed nearly 5.6 square miles of intact desert ecosystem, displaced or killed over 140 desert tortoises, and has already burned dozens of birds in its initial testing.  This photo of the Ivanpah Solar project was taken from miles away in the Mojave National Preserve, and shows the sea of thousands of mirrors heating three towers.  BrightSource's initial propaganda claimed that desert vegetation could still flourish underneath the mirrors and claimed that once-wild tortoises held in confinement in holding pens at the facility were receiving royal treatment.  Tortoises in the holding pens have gone missing, and juvenile tortoises were killed by an ant invasion.
Based on these recent experiences at the Ivanpah Solar project, as well as a study of a similar solar project design in the 1980s, biologists and the conservation community warned that BrightSource Energy's proposed Palen Solar power project would have significant impact on flying wildlife - insects, bats and birds.  It appears that the CEC listened.  In a draft decision that is pending approval before the full commission, the CEC indicated that BrightSource Energy's power tower design would introduce too much risk to wildlife; the proposed decision indicates that a different type of technology (photovoltaic panels or solar trough) would be much less harmful.

The Palen Solar power project would destroy approximately 5.9 square miles of desert habitat - an area nearly as large as Palm Springs - and its two towers would be among the tallest structures in California.
Now if only we could roll back time and stop the approval of the destructive Ivanpah Solar project.  In the time it has taken to complete construction of Ivanpah, California has added hundreds of megawatts of solar panels on rooftops and on already-disturbed lands.  We can generate clean energy without sacrificing natural treasures to irresponsible companies like BrightSource.

A construction marker on the site of the now-completed Ivanpah Solar project, which destroyed nearly 5.6 square miles of beautiful desert ecosystem, and will continue to harm its inhabitants.


  1. Thank your for this heartening news that someone finally noticed and cares that wildlife has value. In 1996 Congress, through the vote of both the House of Representatives and Senate, wrote into law, the places that have value to keep for future generations. There was also the California Desert Protection Act. In 2010, the act was revised to allow areas to be destroyed for "Clean Energy" a term that should be erased all records pertaining to industrial wind and solar energy. This junk technology needs to be scrapped as a bad idea put to a swift death and chaulk it up to a concept that never should have put into production. Here they are.


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