Thursday, March 5, 2015
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Emerging solar plants scorch birds in midair

By
August 20, 2014 |

IVANPAH DRY LAKE — Workers at a state-of-the-art solar plant in the Mojave Desert have a name for birds that fly through the plant’s concentrated sun rays — “streamers,” for the smoke plume that comes from birds that ignite in midair.

Federal wildlife investigators who visited the BrightSource Energy plant last year and watched as birds burned and fell, reporting an average of one “streamer” every two minutes, are urging California officials to halt the operator’s application to build a still-bigger version.

The investigators want the halt until the full extent of the deaths can be assessed. Estimates per year now range from a low of about a thousand by BrightSource to 28,000 by an expert for the Center for Biological Diversity environmental group.

The deaths are “alarming. It’s hard to say whether that’s the location or the technology,” said Garry George, renewable-energy director for the California chapter of the Audubon Society. “There needs to be some caution.”

The bird kills mark the latest instance in which the quest for clean energy sometimes has inadvertent environmental harm. Solar farms have been criticized for their impacts on desert tortoises, and wind farms have killed birds, including numerous raptors.

“We take this issue very seriously,” said Jeff Holland, a spokesman for NRG Solar of Carlsbad, California, the second of the three companies behind the plant. The third, Google, deferred comment to its partners.

The $2.2 billion plant, which launched in February, is at Ivanpah Dry Lake near the California-Nevada border. The operator says it’s the world’s biggest plant to employ so-called power towers.

More than 300,000 mirrors, each the size of a garage door, reflect solar rays onto three boiler towers each looming up to 40 stories high. The water inside is heated to produce steam, which turns turbines that generate enough electricity for 140,000 homes.

Sun rays sent up by the field of mirrors are bright enough to dazzle pilots flying in and out of Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

Federal wildlife officials said Ivanpah might act as a “mega-trap” for wildlife, with the bright light of the plant attracting insects, which in turn attract insect-eating birds that fly to their death in the intensely focused light rays.

Federal and state biologists call the number of deaths significant, based on sightings of birds getting singed and falling, and on retrieval of carcasses with feathers charred too severely for flight.

Ivanpah officials dispute the source of the so-called streamers, saying at least some of the puffs of smoke mark insects and bits of airborne trash being ignited by the solar rays.

Wildlife officials who witnessed the phenomena say many of the clouds of smoke were too big to come from anything but a bird, and they add that they saw “birds entering the solar flux and igniting, consequently become a streamer.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials say they want a death toll for a full year of operation.

Given the apparent scale of bird deaths at Ivanpah, authorities should thoroughly track bird kills there for a year, including during annual migratory seasons, before granting any more permits for that kind of solar technology, said George, of the Audubon Society.

The toll on birds has been surprising, said Robert Weisenmiller, chairman of the California Energy Commission. “We didn’t see a lot of impact” on birds at the first, smaller power towers in the U.S. and Europe, Weisenmiller said.

The commission is now considering the application from Oakland-based BrightSource to build a mirror field and a 75-story power tower that would reach above the sand dunes and creek washes between Joshua Tree National Park and the California-Arizona border.

The proposed plant is on a flight path for birds between the Colorado River and California’s largest lake, the Salton Sea — an area, experts say, is richer in avian life than the Ivanpah plant, with protected golden eagles and peregrine falcons and more than 100 other species of birds recorded there.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials warned California this month that the power-tower style of solar technology holds “the highest lethality potential” of the many solar projects burgeoning in the deserts of California.

The commission’s staff estimates the proposed new tower would be almost four times as dangerous to birds as the Ivanpah plant. The agency is expected to decide this autumn on the proposal.

While biologists say there is no known feasible way to curb the number of birds killed, the companies behind the projects say they are hoping to find one — studying whether lights, sounds or some other technology would scare them away, said Joseph Desmond, senior vice president at BrightSource Energy.

BrightSource also is offering $1.8 million in compensation for anticipated bird deaths at Palen, Desmond said.

The company is proposing the money for programs such as those to spay and neuter domestic cats, which a government study found kill over 1.4 billion birds a year. Opponents say that would do nothing to help the desert birds at the proposed site.

Power-tower proponents are fighting to keep the deaths from forcing a pause in the building of new plants when they see the technology on the verge of becoming more affordable and accessible, said Thomas Conroy, a renewable-energy expert.

When it comes to powering the country’s grids, “diversity of technology … is critical,” Conroy said. “Nobody should be arguing let’s be all coal, all solar,” all wind, or all nuclear. “And every one of those technologies has a long list of pros and cons.”

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 3 comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

  • PornacAugust 19, 2014 - 7:08 am

    What's a few thousand more dead birds each year. As the hunter's say: a flying bird is a dead bird.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • JimboAugust 19, 2014 - 11:37 am

    You would think an electricity generating plant could afford to run a industrial sized bird abatement tool to scare them away. Farmers use propane cannons at little cost. Why is this sun farm unable to accomplish what actual farmers have for decades?

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • First one thing, then another....August 19, 2014 - 12:09 pm

    I tell ya--it's those darn ecoterrorists! First, it the wind turbines killing birds, now it's solar power. What's next--building a dam to flood them out?

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Recent Articles

  • Enter your email address to subscribe and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • .

    Solano News

     
    Show resilience in the face of adversity

    By Mayrene Bates | From Page: A2

     
    Students sample industry choices during school career fair

    By Glen Faison | From Page: A3 | Gallery

     
    Real McCoy II Ferry set for maintenance

    By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A3

     
    Vacaville police slate annual awards ceremony

    By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A3

    Limited damage to apartment from carport fire

    By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A3 | Gallery

     
    Pet remembrance event set in Vallejo

    By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A4

     
    Friday concert benefits Families Helping Families

    By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A4

     
    Vallejo police arrest 4 in connection with 3 killings

    By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A4

     
    National Red Cross Month celebrates heroes

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

    Il Fiorello schedules citrus class

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

     
    Jury convicts ex-con who served as own lawyer

    By Jess Sullivan | From Page: A4

    Red Carpet Gala to benefit theater foundation

    By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A4

     
    Suisun City police log: Tuesday, March 3, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A10

    Fairfield police log: Tuesday, March 3, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A10

     
    .

    US / World

     
    Justices sharply divided over health care law subsidies

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

     
    California lawmaker pushes child care worker vaccinations

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

    Children in Southern California breathing easier, study says

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A4 | Gallery

     
    Failures by 3 governments preceded homeless man’s death

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A4 | Gallery

    Second Los Angeles hospital reports ‘superbug’ infections

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

     
    How much sugar is in that? 7 foods with added sugar

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A5 | Gallery

     
    Obama signs Homeland Security funding bill into law

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

     
    House panel issues subpoena for Clinton’s personal emails

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

     
    Feds: Evidence backs Ferguson officer’s account in shooting

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

    A defiant Alabama regains ground against gay marriage

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

     
    Microsoft co-founder says he found sunken Japan WWII warship

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

     
    Coal mine blast kills at least 24 in war-torn east Ukraine

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A6 | Gallery

    .

    Living

    Today in History: March 5, 2015

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Community Calendar: March 5, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

    Horoscopes: March 5, 2015

    By Holiday Mathis | From Page: A9

     
    I can’t tell if I still want to be married, or just don’t want to be alone

    By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: A9

    .

    Entertainment

    DiCaprio partners with Netflix for series of documentaries

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

     
    ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ tops MTV Movie Awards nominations

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

    Glen Campbell children fighting wife’s control of affairs

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B4 | Gallery

     
    .

    Sports

     
    Posey has 2-run double in Giants’ 9-2 loss to A’s

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

     
    Local report: Vanden softball slips by Rodriguez with late run

    By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B1

    Curry shoots Warriors to 102-93 victory over Bucks

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

     
    Alex Johnson, AL batting champ in 1970, dies at age 72

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    Goodell: NFL responsible for Super Bowl seating problems

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    Former player Nate Jackson calls for NFL to allow marijuana

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    Phoenix to install tire barriers before NASCAR visit

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    Pirelli sticks with same tire choices for first 4 F1 races

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    AP Source: Peyton Manning returning for 18th NFL season

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    NCAA reports big jump in home runs with new flat-seam ball

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    MLS, players agree in principle to 5-year deal

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    Prosecutors can’t bring up Florida shooting in ex-NFLer case

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    Vikings agree to trade Cassel to Bills

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    Scott opens a season of change at Doral

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    ‘It WAS him': Defense admits Tsarnaev bombed Boston Marathon

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    With Peterson’s status in question, Vikings pay a visit

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    NFL stadium supporters in LA suburb file ballot paperwork

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    .

    Business

    .

    Obituaries

    Cesar Luis Garcia-Regalado

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

     
    Rodolfo Landabora Porquez

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

    Aaron D. Malave

    By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

     
    Thelma A. Roche

    By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

    .

    Comics

    Beetle Bailey

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

     
    Frank and Ernest

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

    B.C.

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

     
    Garfield

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

    Rose is Rose

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

     
    For Better or Worse

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

    Zits

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

     
    Blondie

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

    Wizard of Id

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

     
    Get Fuzzy

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

    Sally Forth

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

     
    Peanuts

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

    Pickles

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

     
    Baldo

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

    Dilbert

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

     
    Baby Blues

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

    Bridge

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

     
    Word Sleuth

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

    Sudoku

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

     
    Cryptoquote

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

    Crossword

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9