A giant solar-power project officially opening this week in the California desert is the first of its kind, and may be among the last, in part because of growing evidence that the technology it uses is killing birds.
U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is scheduled to speak Thursday at
an opening ceremony for the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station,
which received a $1.6 billion federal loan guarantee.
The $2.2 billion solar farm, which spans over five square miles of
federal land southwest of Las Vegas, includes three towers as tall as
40-story buildings. Nearly 350,000 mirrors, each the size of a garage
door, reflect sunlight onto boilers atop the towers, creating steam that
drives power generators.
The owners of the project—
NRG Energy Inc., NRG +2.89%
Google Inc. GOOG +1.08%
and BrightSource Energy Inc., the company that developed the “tower
power” solar technology—call the plant a major feat of engineering that
can light up about 140,000 homes a year.
Temperatures around the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System’s towers can hit 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Zuma Press
One reason: the BrightSource system appears to be scorching birds
that fly through the intense heat surrounding the towers, which can
reach 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
The company, which is based in Oakland, Calif., reported finding
dozens of dead birds at the Ivanpah plant over the past several months,
while workers were testing the plant before it started operating in
December. Some of the dead birds appeared to have singed or burned
feathers, according to federal biologists and documents filed with the
state Energy Commission.
Mirrors reflect sunlight on to boilers atop the Ivanpah
facility’s towers to create steam for generating power. The Washington
Regulators said they anticipated that some birds would be killed once
the Ivanpah plant started operating, but that they didn’t expect so
many to die during the plant’s construction and testing. The dead birds
included a peregrine falcon, a grebe, two hawks, four nighthawks and a
variety of warblers and sparrows. State and federal regulators are
overseeing a two-year study of the facility’s effects on birds.
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