The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is looking into reports that solar energy facilities are blinding, burning, maiming, and killing birds. A number of dead birds have turned up near solar facilities this summer, and the BLM wants answers. E&E News reports:
At project sites like the Ivanpah plant, which uses thousands of heliostat mirrors to reflect sunlight on solar receivers atop power towers that can stand 400 feet tall or higher, regulators want to know whether birds can crash into the towers. Another concern being investigated is whether passing birds can be burned or blinded while flying between the mirrors and the power towers, referred to as “solar flux.”
The discovery of the dead Yuma clapper rail at the Desert Sunlight plant, which uses photovoltaic solar panels, has raised other concerns that the reflected light off the flat array of panels appears much like water, fooling the bird into thinking the solar array was a lake and crashing down into it.
Solar isn’t the first bird-killing renewable energy source. Birds fly in to spinning wind turbines, and one green group estimates that nearly 600,000 are killed by such collisions every year. So what are greens to do? Two of the leading zero-carbon energy sources are killing animals, some of which belong to endangered species.
First, let’s put this in perspective. Cats kill more than five times as many birds; glass buildings are also deadlier to birds than wind farms. More importantly, environmentalists need to recognize that every energy source entails some kind of risk. Well casings might crack, birds might collide with turbines or fly through focused sunlight, nuclear reactors might fail, dams might break, a stray spark might ignite a coal mine. The only way to eliminate these risks is to not consume energy.
That’s not going to happen, so we’re better off focusing on minimizing risks. We can do that by siting nuclear plants far away from tectonic faults, by siting wind farms far from migratory bird routes, by requiring oil and gas drillers to wait for cement well casings to fully dry before fracking, by investing in the research and development of smarter, more efficient technologies. But let’s not kid ourselves into thinking we can power civilization on happiness and rainbows.
[Ivanpah solar facility image courtesy of Aioannides]