A new solar plant in the Mojave Desert is zapping birds out of the sky as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service urges California to put a hold on making any more solar plants of its kind.
The state-of-the-art BrightSource Energy plant owned by Google and two California energy companies collects concentrated rays from the sun. However, the technology is proving fatal to birds, igniting them in midair as they fly above the plant.
The $2.2 billion plant at Ivanpah Dry Lake has 300,000 mirrors, which are each the size of a garage door. They reflect solar rays onto three boiler towers, which stand 40 stories tall. Water inside is heated, producing steam, which powers turbines generating enough electricity for 140,000 homes.
Federal wildlife officials call it a “mega-trap” for wildlife – the bright lights attract insects, which in turn attract insect-eating birds which are roasted by the concentrated rays.
The smoke plume signifying a bird kill has been dubbed a “streamer,” The Associated Press reports.
Wildlife officials said, “Birds entering the solar flux and igniting, consequently become a streamer.”
Federal investigators who visited the plant in 2013 reported there was a streamer once every two minutes. They want state officials to stop solar developers from building an even bigger plant while they assess the full impact it has on wildlife.
Garry George, the renewable energy director for the California chapter of the Audubon Society, called the deaths “alarming. It’s hard to say whether that’s the location or the technology.”
“There needs to be some caution,” George added.
Federal officials want a full year to tally the number of birds being killed by the plant.
Thomas Conroy, a renewable-energy expert, says when it comes to energy “diversity of technology ... is critical.”
“Nobody should be arguing let’s be all coal, all solar,” Conroy said. “And every one of those technologies has a long list of pros and cons.”
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons / innotata, Chip Chipman/Bloomberg