Will burning birds shut down Brightsource, world’s largest solar thermal power plant?

burned bird ivanpah

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.

solar thermal brightsource ivanpah

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)

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18 thoughts on “Will burning birds shut down Brightsource, world’s largest solar thermal power plant?”

  1. JTR says:

    Our dilemma is mad
    that way too much
    of every good thing
    turns it all bad.

    1. Chasmanthe says:

      and that’s exactly it. any Excess – whether it be in the direction of positive or negative, good or bad – becomes unbalanced, and is hence unsustainable. this is not the way of nature. what is this obsession with grandness of scale? small-scale, decentralized, local power, taking ownership and responsibility as much as is possible for ourselves, our impact, our immediate spaces, and our needs

  2. rufus44 says:

    … I forgot to add that your comment,

    “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.”

    shows how stupid it is. First of all, California has some of the best environmental laws in the nation, not to mention the world. but you would rather compare it to the Middle East that you openly admit is totally backwards in wildlife protection. So… if I’m to conclude the meaning from your comment, California shouldn’t be so protective of their wildlife because the Middle East is so unprotective of theirs!!!! seriously, that is just dumb.

    Also, you say:

    “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.” (poor english, it’s “have” not “am”)

    Then you go on to say:

    “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.”

    So in the first statement you imply their isn’t proof that “dozens” die, but in your second comment, you “guarantee” multiples more die from cats, yet you have images of the same birds getting scorched. Did it ever occur to you that the reason the LA Basin is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world is EXACTLY the reason no one would live in the same desert that has the Brightsource plant. You write with your emotions and not your brain. This is pretend journalism at best.

    One more thing: Brightsource is a US-israeli corporation based in Oakland, CA. (look up BrightSource_Energy on wikipedia). No wonder you’re pro Brightsource! That’s IS pretend journalism, but will you allow this comment to be posted?

  3. rufus44 says:

    Karin Kloosterman, your ignorance is clearly obvious given your lack of understanding of the southern california energy issue. Do you think that the sun only shines in the desert? That same sun shines on EVERY single house that gets powered by this solar plant. Our political climate here, yes, I live in southern california, is such that politicians won’t consider putting those same panels, albeit solar panels, on the roofs of houses because homeowners don’t like the LOOK of them. Yes, that’s correct. What you think is a necessary compromise because you’re ignorant, is in fact simply politics trumping logic. Not only is the solar plant a hugely negative impact on the desert (and no the desert isn’t just a big empty place; maybe in israel it is), but the massive transmission lines also impact the environment and cost an enormous amount of money to build. This entire approach of using the desert as the scapegoat for homeowners that don’t what their house values to drop (another irony is that in the future as things get worse their house may actually be worth more with solar panels) is part of the endless backwards approach to fixing our scarce resource issues, but most are very ignorant of the overall problem southern california faces, not to mention water resources.

    I’m sure it makes no sense to you to have those that use the energy be the caretakers for the energy source, as in required to have solar panels on their houses if they want that same energy source. The problem we have in socal is that property values trump logical solutions. Thanks for furthering the disinformation and putting environmentalists that have a legitimate argument on the defensive. Do your research please. You are part of the problems and this article is just plain dumb!

    1. Jabs says:

      All energy needs cannot be satisfied with rooftop solar. Furthermore, large CSP plants offer the possibility of energy storage, although this is not the case with Ivanpah. You are right about one thing, CSP is insanely expensive compared to PV, but that has only been the case for the past few years and it doesn’t offer the option to add storage. Also, I’m not sure why you incessantly bring up the topic of Israel…not sure what that has to do with anything.

      1. rufus44 says:

        First off, I hope you’re not defending the author’s journalism… I don’t claim rooftop will satisfy all things, but that doesn’t mean it’s a justification for not having rooftop. Further, homes can be equipped for energy storage too, and in fact that would be a great idea, tied in with an electric vehicle. The point is there are other options, and painting a picture without options is not good journalism.

        Israel? I think I made it abundantly clear that the fact this ezine is based in Israel, the company that is being defended by this article is Israeli, is NOT exactly a minor detail! Or did you miss that point too? I mentioned it one other time based on the assumption she is writing from Israel or is working in Israel. Twice is NOT “incessantly” bringing up the topic of Israel.

  4. Jerry996 says:

    Let’s hope that nature takes its course and the birds as a group learn to avoid the new hazard.

  5. Don Osborn says:

    Bird deaths associated with wind farms or the new Solar Power Tower in Ivanpah, CA have been used by the fossil fuel industry and their extreme conservative allies. However, these bird deaths are, in reality, very minor compared to almost any other cause and MUCH less than the bird deaths caused by fossil fuel and nuclear plants even on a per power generated basis [http://cleantechnica.com/2013/11/26/wind-farm-bird-deaths-fossil-fuel-nuclear-bird-deaths/]:
    • Wind farms kill roughly 0.27 birds per GWh.
    • Nuclear plants kill about 0.6 birds per GWh. (2.2x wind)
    • Fossil-fueled power stations kill about 9.4 birds per GWh. (34.8x wind)
    While fossil fuel plants are much more danger to birds than any wind or solar facility, according to US researchers, even fossil fuel plants do not make the top 10 causes of bird deaths which include: 1. Domestic and feral cats (200 million), 2. Power lines, collisions and electrocutions (130 million), 3. Collisions with houses or buildings (100 million) 4. Pesticides (70 million), and 5. Vehicle collisions (60 million) which includes some over 51,000 bird strikes by aircraft in a year. [http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/wind-turbine-kill-birds.htm] and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bird_strike%5D

    So wind turbines make up only a very small fraction of a percent (about 0.009%) of man caused bird deaths and solar power towers even less. Nevertheless, The Heartland Institute and their climate-denying associates, generate regular “news” reports to promote the false the idea alive that “wind farms are bird killing machines” and they are now doing so on the Solar Power Towers based on a very few birds being burned by the concentrated light of the plant. It just ain’t true. Wind, and even more so solar, just are not significant contributors to the problem of bird deaths. For these climate deniers to protest their concerns is just disingenuous at best

    1. rufus44 says:

      Thank you for the link, I went ahead and read the paper the cleantechnica.com article references. Basically, it makes the case for conventional power production (fossil fuels) by including the impact of climate change on the numbers quoted. What this means is that though some of the numbers are directly quantifiable, the whole number of “9.36 birds per GWh” isn’t. Here is an example:

      “Based on real world operating experience for two coal facilities as well as the indirect damages from mountain top removal coal mining in Appalachia, acid rain pollution on wood thrushes, mercury pollution, and anticipated impacts of climate change.”

      The end is key… “and anticipated impacts of climate change.” This, of course is real, but quantifiable? Sorta… The study states that “9.16 deaths per GWh” is from climate change and the rest, .20 deaths per GWh, is directly countable. I don’t discount climate change in the least bit, but everything we do is impacting climate change, and that includes the construction, manufacturing from raw materials, shipping, etc, of what is required for wind, nuclear, and solar, and of course fossil fuels. Though the study means well, it needs to include the climate change assumption across all forms of energy production and NOT assume that wind, solar and nuclear are immune from climate change influence.

      What is most difficult to understand is that the infrastructure we have today is directly based on fossil fuel production. Our entire technology infrastructure that allows us to create cutting edge solar, wind and nuclear (??? questionable) technology is totally dependent on what came before it to form an environment that allows us to produce so much solar, wind and nuclear on the cheap. I say we have to be honest and admit we have built our entire existence on fossil fuel production and use. This is a penalty we all have to accept and should be levied on all forms of technology. Once we rid ourselves of fossil fuels, we can finally rid ourselves of the burden and cost it has levied on our existence.

      Most important, once we rid ourselves of fossil fuel production, we can now look at the kill rate of birds across all forms of energy production (not fossil fuels of course) and see that wind farms are not very low. Also, the kill count is birds only, but bats are starting to show up in “large” quantities too and their deaths are not because they run into the rotors but because their lungs burst from the high pressures around the rotors, and other unknown causes. Also, the counts are limited to what is countable separate from the UNKNOWN loss of numbers to scavenger takes. Bats, at least, are dying mainly from migration. Don’t forget, bats eat insects in insane quantities. Sorry for the superlative, but more effort has to be done to truly understand what is going on, especially since the “experts” themselves know they don’t know enough.

  6. Petr says:

    I laughed so hard when I read this. Flaming birds from the sky, you gotta love it. Now we finally have a way to reduce bird strikes on commercial airliners. Just put solar panels around every airport. Power to the people! And those pesky pigeons soiling downtown statues? No problem, gotcha covered (hehe). Hunger among the homeless…solved. Pre-cooked meals from heaven. Now we just need to figure out how to get brocolli to fly high enough to come back down steaming hot, mmmmm good.

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