Travelers may be awed by the site of the Ivanpah solar power plant on the drive between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, but get too close and they may find themselves in the midst of an animal “mega-trap” full of scorched birds and insects.
“It appears that Ivanpah may act as a ‘mega-trap,’ attracting insect-eating birds, which are incapacitated by solar flux injury, thus attracting predators and creating an entire food chain vulnerable to injury and death,” according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report.
The FWS report details bird deaths at three solar facilities in southern California — Ivanpah, Desert Sunlight and Genesis. Officials examined the remains of 233 birds and found that “solar flux” was the leading cause of death at Ivanpah. Basically, the birds were incinerated as they flew over the installation, according to the FWS report obtained by KCET.
FWS reports that 47 of the 141 dead birds found at Ivanpah were essentially burnt up — sometimes whole birds and bugs are even incinerated. Damage to the birds’ feathers ranged from “singeing to charring, and a few instances of skin burns,” reports KCET.
“Forensic Lab staff observed a falcon or falcon-like bird with a plume of smoke arising from the tail as it passed through the flux field,” the FWS report said. “Immediately after encountering the flux, the bird exhibited a controlled loss of stability and altitude but was able to cross the perimeter fence before landing.”
Federal officials with FWS’s Office of Law Enforcement (OLE) office observed what Ivanpah employees called “streamers” when visiting the facility in October 2013.
“When OLE staff visited the Ivanpah Solar plant, we observed many streamer events,” the FWS report says. “It is claimed that these events represent the combustion of loose debris, or insects.”
“Although some of the events are likely that, there were instances in which the amount of smoke produced by the ignition could only be explained by a larger flammable biomass such as a bird,” the report adds. “Indeed OLE staff observed birds entering the solar flux and igniting, consequently becoming a streamer.”
“OLE staff observed an average of one streamer event every two minutes,” According to the FWS.
Ivanpah is owned by Brightsource Energy, Google and NRG Energy and got $1.6 billion in federal loan guarantees from the Obama administration in 2011. The facility is a solar thermal plant that generates power by pointing hundreds of thousands of large mirrors, or heliostats, at 460-foot towers and heating water tanks sitting on top of them.
Environmentalists have opposed the project because of its impact on desert tortoise habitats. But the Obama administration has backed the project as part of their effort to push more green energy.
“This project speaks for itself,” said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. “Just look at the 170,000 shining heliostat mirrors and the three towers that would dwarf the Statue of Liberty.”
“Ivanpah is the largest solar thermal energy facility in the world with 392 MW of capacity — meaning it can produce enough renewable electricity to power nearly 100,000 homes,” Moniz added.
Environmentalists have long been pointing to the environmental issues of expanding renewable energy generation. Wind power, for example, are responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of birds every year, and now more evidence is showing that solar power plants can harm wildlife as well.
For months now, media reports have come out detailing how the Ivanpah facility is scorching birds and leaving environmentalists fuming. The Associated Press reported in February that Ivanpah was scorching birds flying over overhead.
“Government documents show dozens of dead birds from sparrows to hawks have been found on the site, some with melted feathers,” the AP reported. “The suspected causes of death include collisions with mirrors and scorching. In November alone, 11 dead birds were found, including two, a blackbird and a warbler, with singed feathers.”
“We’re trying to figure out how big the problem is and what we can do to minimize bird mortalities,” Eric Davis, assistant regional director for migratory birds for the FWS, told the Wall Street Journal. “When you have new technologies, you don’t know what the impacts are going to be.”
The federal agencies that reviewed the project are being sued by the environmental group the Western Watersheds Project. The group contends that “alternatives to the site were not considered and serious environmental impacts, including fragmenting the tortoise population, were ignored,” reports the UK Independent.
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