The switch was flipped this week as California’s Ivanpah solar thermal power plant went live. The 392 megawatt concentrating solar plant (CSP) is now delivering renewables to power the equivalent of 140,000 homes in California. After a long journey lasting decades of development, fighting regulations, manoeuvring around turtle conservationists, burning birds may be the latest problem.
According to environmentalists, the heat focused from the 350,000 garage-door sized mirrors is incinerating birds that fly in the pathway of the sun’s concentrated rays. State energy officials have put out photos of birds with singed feathers from flying into what is being called the hot ‘thermal flux’ around the towers, with temperatures that can reach 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Like the solar death rays in London.
The plant is located on five square miles of the Mojave Desert, near the California / Nevada border, and is the largest CSP plant of its kind in the world. According to news reports some dozens of birds have died since the plant was turned on. I am yet to substantiate these findings with a source. But I have something to say about it. Listen up bird lovers.
Maintaining animal habitats is important for renewable energy projects but it shouldn’t be the only concern. If that same area of land were turned into homes, I can guarantee you that multiples more of songbirds would be dying from neighbourhood cats who prey on them for play.
Or if that same amount of energy was produced by the oil industry, the effects of a spill or the consequences of the industry (with leaks, fumes, greenhouse gas) would be much worse. I am not saying that we can’t learn something from this renewable energy advance, I think it’s time that we understand that there is no perpetual motion machine that is going to supply endlessly clean energy. Everything we do to feed our power needs will have a consequence and we have to weigh the pros (clean energy with the cons (singed birds).
If you want to follow the story, start here with compliance documents that Brightsource submitted last year (links to PDF). If you jump down to the wildlife section you’ll find some quite remarkable considerations for wildlife, certainly care and regard you would NEVER EVER find in the Middle East.
::Brightsource (hat tip Nicky Blackburn)