We need to solve the rate of wildlife kill at solar panel farms

Large solar arrays are killing wildlife at an alarming rate, with no solution in sight

Large solar arrays are killing wildlife at an alarming rate, with no solution in sight

There’s an aphorism that’s played out over and over again these days.” Every solution brings new problems.”

For every new innovation, a whole array of issues pop up needing to be solved. Such is proving to be the case with the large solar arrays that exist and/or are on the drawing board.

The construction of solar panel farms and concentrated solar power are booming businesses. In California, these types of industrial-scale facilities are helping utilities meet a state mandate that 20 percent of the electricity sold by 2017 is renewable. But the problem of wildlife impacts has yet to be successfully addressed or reduced. And because of this, the growth of concentrated solar, which by one recent estimate could grow to a $9 billion worldwide industry in 2020, up from $1 billion in 2013, could be crimped by lawsuits and opposition from conservationists.

Much of the problem appears to lie in the “lake effect,” in which birds and their insect prey can mistake a reflective solar facility for a water body, or spot water ponds at the site, then hone in on it. Because of the power of the lake effect, the federal investigators described such solar farms as “mega-traps” in their report.

Ivanpah - the world's largest solar array, in the Mojave Desert

Ivanpah – the world’s largest solar array, in the Mojave Desert

“I strongly believe there’s a way to show the birds that the PV panels are solid surfaces, not water,” said Ileene Anderson, a scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, which is preparing to sue over Yuma clapper rail mortality at solar power plants.

Thousands of birds are flying into a new mega solar arrays in the middle of California’s Mojave Desert. And, according to the  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), it’s killing them at a rate of up to one bird every two minutes. These include blue herons, plovers and eagles, to name a few.

The state-of-the-art Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS), which opened in February, is the world’s largest solar plant to utilize “power towers.”  At Ivanpah, the sun’s ray’s are redirected from a sea of more than 300,000 mirrors on the desert surface below to hit water filled boilers atop three 459-foot towers.” Temperatures near the towers can climb to 800 degrees, which causes the water to produce steam that turns turbines which generate energy.

According to the Associated Press, up to 28,000 birds per year might be incinerated  in the focused beams of sunlight. These tragically killed birds are being dubbed “streamers,” due to the poof of smoke produced by the igniting birds.

The USFWS has reported that most of the birds are dying from various levels of exposure to “solar flux” which causes “singeing of feathers.” But dead birds are piling up out in the desert where almost no one will see, so it’s easy to explain the “collateral damage”{ away.

The solar mirrors at Ivanpah are killing birds at the rate of one every 2 minutes

The solar mirrors at Ivanpah are killing birds at the rate of one every 2 minutes

The USFWS admittedly doesn’t yet know the full extent of the solar facility’s impact on bird populations, and is calling for a full year study of the death toll at the site before the plant’s operators are allowed to construct an even bigger “power tower” solar plant between Joshua Tree National Park and the California-Arizona border, the Associated Press reports.

Climate change has severely effecting the migration habits and access to sufficient food sources of the aviation population. The amount of songbirds has seriously declined in the last few years.It’s putting many bird species in jeopardy, with many of these moving towards the endangered species list.

The human creative mind is remarkable. Surely this issue has a solution that will allow our renewable energy sources to exist in harmony with Nature. We must accept the responsibility of discovering the long-term problems our innovations will create and solve them before blithely moving ahead with projects, no matter how wonderful the results may seem at first blush. It’s time to be accountable and be good stewards with our actions. A lot ids riding on it.

3 Responses

  1. Terrible news, but certainly not insurmountable. We need to start by looking at who else has had to deal with similar problems – e.g. how do we keep flocks of birds from going too close to airports? Also, how many birds die every minute by diving into our vast glass homes & buildings? This give us an opportunity to take a broader perspective on what problem needs to be to solved here…

  2. Well said Jim. To me every man-managed activity has some negative impact on environment how so ever small may it be. I feel that we should not ignore the negative impacts of “Wind Farms” and “Solar PV Farms” (both for electricity generation) as well.

  3. Combine a deterrent with a nearby attraction. Not perfect, but may reduce these casualties.

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