It’s a conundrum for environmentalists: a solar power plant that is the largest of its type in the world and can supply power for 140,000 homes is also killing dozens of birds. The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, which uses hundreds of thousands of mirrors near the California-Nevada border, is capable of producing nearly 400 megawatts, but its roughly 350,000 solar-thermal, computer-controlled mirrors which reflect sunlight to boilers on the top of 459-foot towers, has apparently already killed dozens of birds. The intense 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit around the towers is burning birds flying through its path.
The plant, owned by NRG Energy Inc., Google Inc. and BrightSource Energy, formally opened Thursday. In 2011 Google had announced it would plow $168 million to support it and Bright Source has obtained $1.6 billion in loans guaranteed by the Department of Energy.
BrightSource reported that dozens of birds have been discovered on the ground, some with some having singed or burned feathers, according to the wall street Journal. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists have noted BrightSource’s plan for another large-scale solar farm in Riverside County, and are trying to ascertain if there is a problem. Eric Davis, assistant regional director for migratory birds at the agency’s Sacramento office, said, “We’re trying to figure out how big the problem is and what we can do to minimize bird mortalities. When you have new technologies, you don’t know what the impacts are going to be.
Western Watersheds Project, an Idaho-based conservation nonprofit group, has been attempting to stop the government from approving the solar plant, suing in 2011, but a California district court rejected the suit near the end of 2012. Western Watersheds has appealed the case, according to the International Business Times. Western Watersheds Project’s director, Michael Connor, said, “We know solar projects are an issue as far as birds are concerned. But they say, well, it’s not significant, so we’ll monitor it. So what happens now? You find lots of dead birds. Then what happens? Nothing … Do we really need to have these giant plants first, or is it better to generate solar power on people’s roofs, the place it’s going to be used?”
But the California Energy Commission already is on the side of BrightSource, saying, that the plant would impose “significant impacts on the environment … the benefits the project would provide override those impacts.”
The Energy Department has stated that the solar industry employs more than 140,000 Americans, and jobs in the industry rose almost 20 percent since the fall of 2012.