Solar energy may sound like it’s great for the environment as a whole – but it appears to be deadly to our feathery friends.
Right now tens of thousands of birds are being accidentally incinerated as they fly through a solar power plant in California’s Mojave Desert.
The surprising and horrific deaths are occurring at a rate of one every couple of minutes since the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System opened back in February of this year,
The plant uses a tall towers to collect sunbeams that are redirected off hundreds of highly-reflective panels and focused on the top of the 459 foot towers where boilers sit. The water within is heated to 800 degrees, producing steam that is used to generate electricity.
There is enough power to keep an entire small city humming for a year using this renewable resource, and the operation was thought to be a boon for the environment. However, it turns out that it is killing the local avian populations with a vengeance.
Up to 28,000 birds a year are being scorched to death as they fly through the focused sunbeams. So frequent are these occurrences that the hapless animals have been dubbed ‘streamers’ for the trail of smoke behind the birds as they ignite in flight, according to reports from Associated Press.
A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) report on the problem states that the solar facilities are equal opportunity killers in that the remains of 71 different species have been recovered – everything from hummingbirds to pelicans. Most died of a direct result of having their feathers singed, causing the birds to die on impact with the ground. Those that do manage to survive these hellish conditions, meet a premature death through either starvation or predation.
The devastation is so great that the wildlife experts are calling Ivanhpah a ‘mega-trap’ for wildlife as it has become a magnet for hordes of insects which in turn attract insect-eating birds that get killed as they cross the focused beams of sunlight. Deaths also included significant amounts of butterflies and bats.
All these burned-out carcasses then draw in predators, affecting their populations as well and “creating an entire food chain that is vulnerable to injury and death,” according to the report.
But this is not the first time that birds have met their deaths at the hands of human architecture.
In the last decade, large cities like Toronto, Chicago and New York have been battling the problem of birds colliding with skyscrapers. Our downtown glass towers appear to draw in birds in flight, leading them to crash into our buildings and plummet to the concrete sidewalks below. And it is occurring at an alarming rate. According to the Toronto-based bird patrol organization called the Fatal Light Awareness Program, between one and nine million birds meet their demise each year from colliding with skyscrapers in that city alone.
Bird-friendly legislation in both Canada and the United States has led to solutions like special window-tints and turning off lights at night so as not to confuse or blind birds.
Recent research has also shown that not only are our buildings affecting birds, but also man-made electromagnetic noise. Migrating birds get their internal compasses out of whack when exposed to signals no more powerful than AM radio frequency waves.
At this point however, researchers dealing with the destruction of wildlife at the desert solar plant are not sure how to counter the issue, recommending only that they get time from to study the situation for a full year. And the problem is a pressing one, since a similar power plant is being planned near the California-Arizona border.
The one bright spot – excuse the pun – is that solar companies have put up $1.8 million to spur on the research and development of any potential solutions that may stop the local wildlife from being killed.
The question now is – can power plants and wildlife peacefully co-exist?