The world’s premier solar thermal facility is burning birds right out of the air by the thousands in the Mojave Desert. The Ivanpah facility uses mirrors to focus sunlight onto boiler towers, and use the steam produced to drive turbines that can power up to 140,000 homes. It’s a nifty bit of engineering, but the renewable energy source is proving to be a massive metal death trap for birds in the area. The AP reports:
Federal wildlife investigators who visited the BrightSource Energy plant last year and watched as birds burned and fell, reporting an average of one “streamer” every two minutes, are urging California officials to halt the operator’s application to build a still-bigger version.The investigators want the halt until the full extent of the deaths can be assessed. Estimates per year now range from a low of about a thousand by BrightSource to 28,000 by an expert for the Center for Biological Diversity environmental group. […]Sun rays sent up by the field of mirrors are bright enough to dazzle pilots flying in and out of Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
Thousands of birds are being fried alive by this green energy source, and pilots are being blinded by the concentrated sunlight reflected by Ivanpah’s mirrors. These aren’t themselves damning problems for the solar thermal plant, but they aren’t negligible, either.This goes to show that every energy source has downsides and entails risks, and though environmentalists will be loathe to admit it, that includes renewables like solar. The aim here should be the same with any energy source: minimize the risks, maximize the output. The Ivanpah plant has been seen as the best example yet of solar’s potential to provide large amounts of energy from a central location, but it isn’t perfect, no matter what greens might think.