The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Green Energy is Hazardous to Birds. Should We Care?

Ivanpah_Solar_Power_Facility_Online

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]

Published on September 27, 2013 5:15 pm
  • Corlyss

    Well, I care, but if renewables are ever to become anything but boutique energy sources, its a cost we’ll have to put up with. Quelle horreur! Imagine that! A Green solution that *gasp* does at least as much harm as good, just like ethanol! Personally I’d rather have fracking than sacrifice a single bird to inane non-solutions to our energy problems.
    It would be fun to watch the two green segments tear into each other. You know, just for diversion’s sake.

  • lukelea

    Personally, I oppose solar and wind farms on aesthetic grounds:

    https://www.google.com/search?newwindow=1&client=opera&hs=Otj&channel=suggest&biw=1359&bih=764&tbm=isch&sa=1&q=solar+farms&oq=solar+farms&gs_l=img.3..0l10.68844.70951.0.71760.11.10.0.1.1.0.136.477.7j2.9.0….0…1c.1.27.img..1.10.483.mC4lnLsldgQ

    http://wondergressive.com/2013/03/18/the-power-of-wind-farms/

    Not that that should matter of course were they cost competitive. But, please, not in my back yard. I’d rather look at nuclear cooling towers:

    https://www.google.com/search?q=nuclear+cooling+tower&num=100&newwindow=1&client=opera&hs=zDP&channel=suggest&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=2CFGUsLgMYzs9ASA2IGoCg&ved=0CDMQsAQ&biw=1359&bih=764&dpr=1

  • Bruce

    If you didn’t feel bad for the birds, this would almost be funny. The utopians that come up with this stuff are pathetic.

  • John c

    they stop loggers to save owls-stop the greenies before they kill all the birds

    • romatrast

      They own most of the cats, too, I’d bet!

  • DrDean

    Here in Central California, they (BLM and state EPA) have gutted the farming business and tens of thousands of jobs because of a minnows in the San Joaquin Delta. Now they are threatening to drain the drinking water supply in my area to dangerously low levels just to ensure the minnows are protected.

    But…. Taking drinking water for people is PC-Okay (no doubt “celebrated” by some), but if ‘green energy’ is killing wildlife, meh, who cares?

    Such is the increasing tyranny we live under.

  • bowman

    With this solar site, its built in a fairly desolate place which I
    presume didn’t have many people walking across it before the solar plant
    was built. Are there more dead birds in the area than there were before
    the solar site was built? I doubt that anyone knows for sure.

    I
    grew up on a farm. You see dead bird remains on the ground because birds
    die and other animals don’t like eating the feathers. That doesn’t
    necessarily mean that you did something to kill the bird.

    The
    solar site could also be doing something to inadvertently attract birds
    into the area which would lead to more birds dying of natural causes in
    the area. They could be having food trash and water which attracts
    rodents and birds. They could be watering the lawn so that insects have
    it easier and things that prey on insects move in and are in turn prey
    to other animals on up the food chain. Then predator birds have more
    prey birds, rodents, etc. to feed on and more water available so they
    stay in the area more.

    Even if the site itself killed zero birds,
    there’s going to be more dead birds in the area just because humans
    tend to alter the environment around them in ways that attract small
    wildlife. And in ways that discourage larger non-flying predator
    wildlife like security fences which happen to also keep out the coyotes
    which would otherwise be competing with predator birds.

    • bowman

      As for the wind farms, I’m convinced if they painted their equipment like WWII planes did
      their propellers that it would cut down on bird deaths. Mechanics used
      to accidentally move into propellers because they couldn’t tell exactly
      where they were while they were moving. Eventually they started painting
      yellow stripes on the propellers starting at the tips and suddenly it
      became obvious where the propeller is.

      They could do something
      similar with windmills using whatever color that birds see very well and
      alternated with something either lightly reflective or
      glow-in-the-dark.

      • bowman

        As for the more fundamental question of “should we care” I think its very important that we do. And in fact think that asking the question “should we care” is damaging. To elaborate…

        Conservatives are slammed for not caring about anything and being cold-hearted. There’s no reason to deliberately play into that image and asking the question “should we care” in the title demonstrates that you don’t.

        There’s no harm in caring about things. The harm which comes from caring about things is when you do something stupid because you care. That’s such an easy trap to avoid since you just do something smart and helpful rather than dumb and hurtful. Or if you can’t think of anything smart and helpful to do at least you can empathize with the other people who care rather than setting yourself apart from them.

        To get people to vote for your side, they have to feel that you care about the same things or kinds of things that they care about. Its not enough to be right in most voter’s minds, they also have to feel some kind of connection to you and your side. There’s been many polls over the years showing exactly that and remember how Bill Clinton’s fake “I feel your pain” got him over the road bumps created by his many bad policies.

        In addition, I feel that one of the fundamental duties of a conservative is to clean up the messes which liberalism creates. I don’t think we can pick and choose which of their messes that we clean up and still be true to ourselves. We don’t have to make all of them a priority but they all need to be on the “to-do” list.

      • mesocyclone

        Ironically, painted propellers sometimes cause some people to walk towards and even into them – some sort of hypnotic/seizure effect.

        I saw this happen once, but we stopped the person before he became hamburger.

        • bowman

          Well, if hypnotism becomes an issue, we could put up loudspeakers saying, “Stay away from the windmills. You will wake up, feel refreshed, and cluck like a chicken”.

  • mikekelley10

    You didn’t think all this solar and wind stuff was about helping the environment did you? It is all about making electricity unaffordable to average people and making politically connected cronies rich.

  • mesocyclone

    Not noted here is the discrimination in favor of wind farms. Oil firms have been charged and convicted of felony migratory bird killing because a few birds died in a waste water pond. Wind farms have a federal exemption from killing the same kinds of birds.

  • papertiger0

    Cats don’t kill eagles. Cats don’t kill condors.
    Or duck, hawks, owls, geese, terns, albatros.

    Windfarms do.