The Ivanpah solar plant in Southern California killed 6,185 birds in 2015. That includes burning about 1,145 birds with the intense heat coming off its many mirrored heliostat panels, according to a recent report on the government-backed solar project.
An audit of how many birds and bats Ivanpah kills every year found “there were an estimated 2500 fatalities from known causes and 3686 fatalities from unknown causes” last year. Of the known fatalities, nearly 46 percent were killed by the intense, concentrated heat used to generate electricity.
Western EcoSystems Technology, the firm auditing Ivanpah, estimated about 1,145 dead birds have “charring, curling, or melting of feathers.”
“It’s an unbelievably high number, and we’re really alarmed,” Garry George, renewable energy director for the Audubon Society’s California arm, told E&E News. “We have a lot of questions about this mortality report.”
Ivanpah has been the target of bird enthusiasts for some time. The $2.2 billion solar plant doesn’t just use ordinary photovoltaic panels, it uses more than 170,000 mirrored heliostat panels to concentrate the sun’s rays on to boilers atop three tall towers to generate electricity.
That means the air around Ivanpah is superheated by concentrated solar power — not good news for the thousands of migratory birds that pass over the site every year.
“During the 2014 – 2015 monitoring year, there were an estimated 2500 fatalities based on detections from known causes,” Western EcoSystems Technology’s audit reads. “Of the known fatalities estimates, 45.8% were attributed to singeing and 54.1% to collision.”
Ivanpah’s not only come under fire for barbecuing birds, critics have hammered the federally funded facility for not generating all the power it promised its customers.
California regulators considered shutting down Ivanpah for not generating enough electricity. The plant only generated 45 percent of expected power in 2014 and only 68 percent in 2015, according to government data. It’s electricity also cost $200 per megawatt-hour.
Regulators ended up giving Ivanpah more time to boost its energy production. NRG Energy, the company that operates Ivanpah, said it has delivered Pacific Gas & Electric 97 percent of the electrons it had contracted to buy. NRG said it had largely solved the engineering problems causing Ivanpah to under perform.
But lawmakers are still worried taxpayers could be on the hook if Ivanpah goes under. Ivanpah got a $1.6 billion loan guarantee from the Department of Energy, and even asked for a $539 million grant to pay off its federal loan.
Ivanpah’s bird kill count last year was a 77 percent increase from the year before, but Western EcoSystems Technology warned against comparing the plant’s two years of operations.
Western’s audit said the firm responsible for estimating how many birds Ivanpah killed in its first year had biases in it that were corrected in the second year kill report. Western even ran a reanalysis of both years and found “2086 fatalities from known causes and 3042 fatalities from unknown causes in year 1, and 2143 fatalities from known causes and 3038 fatalities from unknown causes in year 2.”
An NRG spokesman told E&E News no threatened or endangered birds were killed by Ivanpah and stressed the company was doing more to reduce the number of birds being killed.
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