The huge Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station in the California desert generates electricity with thousands of mirrors that focus sunlight on towers as high as 40-story buildings. But the technological marvel, which can produce enough electricity for 140,000 homes, is apparently proving fatal to a growing number of birds, according to published reports.
News outlets that include The Wall Street Journal and the public television station KCET said dozens of birds have died around the towers, apparently as a result of flying through the 1,000-degree temperatures created by the focused sunlight.
The $2.2 billion plant, located on a five-square-mile piece of federal land near the California-Nevada border, is owned by NRG Energy, Google, and BrightSource Energy, The Journal reported. The 347,000 mirrors are arranged around towers more than 450 ft. high, each capped with a boiler. The intense sunlight produces steam, which powers generators.
Workers began finding dead birds at the project in the months before it started generating power in December. Some of them seemed to have burned feathers. They included a peregrine falcon, hawks, nighthawks, warblers and sparrows.
KCET reported the plant’s owners conducted surveys in September to look for birds. The surveys were limited to an area directly around the towers that totaled about 156 acres, less than 5% of the project’s total footprint.
The Journal quoted a NRG spokesman as saying it was too soon to draw any “definitive conclusions about long-term impacts on avian or other species.”
BrightSource had proposed a similar solar farm east of Palm Springs, but California’s Energy Commission suggested the company use different technology, such as solar panels.
Wind farms have had their own problems with bird and bat fatalities. Biologists estimate that wind farms have killed dozens of bald and golden eagles as well as 600,000 bats.