Ivanpah's Toll on Wildlife Mounts

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.

Notice the significant amount of "stand-by" focal points - also known as solar flux - appearing as a white pocket adjacent to each of the three power towers.  This super-heated air has scorched and incinerated many birds.

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 mirrors used to project the sun's rays toward the three power towers.  The super-heated air created by the mirrors is often visible from the nearby desert when the mirrors are on "stand-by."  When on stand-by, the mirrors focus the sun's energy in the air adjacent to the power tower, rather than focusing the light directly on the tower.  The result is a large pocket of air known as solar flux that appears as white mist to the observer (see photos above and below).  The Fish and Wildlife Service is concerned that the project's solar flux may also be attracting and killing a significant amount of insects, and they are investigating whether the higher concentration of insects may be attracting more birds to the project site, according to KCET ReWire.

This photo shows one of three power towers lit up by the fied of mirrors.  Notice the stand-by pocket of light to the right of the tower.  Also of note, many of the mirrors in the foreground are not focused on the tower or the stand-by point.  It's not clear why most mirrors are not even directed at the tower, but this suggests an inefficient or ineffective plant design.
As the CEC considers whether to approve Brightsource Energy's Palen Solar project, hopefully they will view Ivanpah's mounting wildlife toll with concern and give scientists enough time to study and understand the full extent of this technology's impact.  Government agencies are developing and implementing an avian and bat mortality monitoring plan for solar projects in the desert, but it may be a while before conclusive results are available.  One thing seems clear - BrightSource Energy's solar power tower technology poses a triple threat to wildlife because it not only requires the destruction of habitat beneath mirrors, it also seems to be responsible for killing flying wildlife with both its mirrors and super-heated air.  No other solar technology has been found to burn flying wildlife like the solar power tower design.  A clean, sustainable energy future should not include BrightSource's power towers.


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