In Solar Discussion, There Are Birds and Then There Are Birds

No one would lump these mammals together, so why do we do it with birds? | Photos: Martin Heywood (mouse, on left), Jim Frost (rhino, right) /Flickr/Creative Commons License

As part of the recent flurry of interest in the issue of harm to birds from solar power plants, some people are trying to compare the damage done to bird populations by solar facilities to other sources of bird mortality. If a coal plant kills more birds than a solar power plant, goes the reasoning, then the birds killed by a solar plant might be a reasonable cost to pay for getting off coal.

There's some truth to the argument. Fossil fueled power plants do an extraordinary amount of damage to the environment and wildlife, and sometimes trade-offs are reasonable to reduce the overall level of damage to the planet's other species.

But the discussion as it's shaping up on blogs and in social media is seriously flawed for a number of reasons. The biggest one: when it comes to gauging environmental harm, "birds" is a nearly useless category.

New to the Birds and Solar Issue? We've Got It Covered Here

A scorched MacGillivray's warbler found by USFWS at the Ivanpah solar project | Photo: USFWS

With last week's appearance of yet another prominent story on bird injuries at solar power plants, ReWire has been getting a lot of traffic on our previous coverage of the issue.

We've been reporting on the issue of burned birds at solar plants since mid-2012. It may have taken other news outlets a few additional months to notice the issue, but we're gratified that the topic is starting to see wider coverage.

As a guide to journalists and other readers who are struggling to come up to speed on the issue, we've compiled our reporting on burn injuries to birds at solar power plants -- over 50 stories in all -- into one handy, interactive post using the popular Storify curation tool. We hope you find it helpful in understanding the issue's broader context. And if you're a journalist, feel free to quote any of our stories with a citation and a link. We like when people do that.

Clean Energy Opponents Getting Even More Ridiculous

The "big green radicals" Lady Gaga attack billboard | Photo: Big Green Radicals, used under Fair Use provisions of U.S. copyright law covering discussion and criticism

More and more people are coming to terms with the established fact that our activities are warming the planet. Rooftop solar is increasingly popular with regular folks, and running your house on the sun is getting cheaper than utility power in more places. More and more communities across the country are working to oppose the fossil fuel's burgeoning practice of hydraulic fracturing.

Renewable energy is winning the war for the hearts and minds of the American public, in other words, and fossil fuels are losing. That creates a dilemma. What can a high-paid D.C. PR rep for dirty energy industries do to stem this tide of climate realism and clean energy sanity?

One such group has hit on an answer: make fun of celebrities. This month, a series of billboards has appeared along the Pennsylvania Turnpike mocking a few prominent entertainers for their green-leaning sentiments. The implication is that because these celebrities recognize the reality of climate change, that climate change isn't happening. And the message comes with a serving of plain old sexism to boot.

New U.S. Power Plants Entirely Renewable in July

Solar panels were a big part of the 405 new megawatts of America's renewable generating capacity that went on in July | Photo: Chandra Marsono/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Every single U.S. electrical power plant that came online in July was a renewable energy plant, according to the federal agency that regulates the nation's power grids. The July "Energy Infrastructure Update" published this week by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), reports that all of the 405 megawatts' worth of new electrical generating capacity going into service in that month derives its power from wind, sun, or water.

Between July 1 and 31, 379 megawatts of wind power generating capacity went online, along with 21 megawatts of solar and five megawatts of hydroelectric capacity, that last from a small dam outside Ketchikan, Alaska.

In that same time period, not a single fossil-fueled power plant went online: no coal, oil, or natural gas.

Feds to Be Sued Over Solar Projects' Harm to Endangered Bird

Yuma clapper rail | Photo: Courtney Conway, US Geological Survey

A national wildlife protection group announced today that it intends to sue two federal agencies for failing to protect the federally Endangered Yuma clapper rail from being harmed at industrial-scale solar power projects in the California desert.

The Yuma clapper rail, Rallus longirostris yumanensis, was listed as Endangered in 1967. Fewer than 1,000 of the birds, and perhaps fewer than 500, remain in the wild.

Since last July, two Yuma clapper rails have been found dead at solar power facilities in the California desert, likely as a result of mistaking those projects' photovoltaic panels for open water. As a result of those deaths, the Center for Biological Diversity announced Thursday that it will be suing the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the agencies' failure to make sure those facilities posed no threat to the rails.

Solar Permit Bill Heading to Governor's Desk

Here comes the sun in Sacramento | Photo: duluoz cats/Flickr/Creative Commons License

A bill that would make it a lot easier to get permits to put solar on your roof is headed for the Governor's desk, having been passed by both houses of the California Legislature.

The bill, AB 2188, which ReWire reported on earlier this month, would set simple statewide standards that would cut the mounting red tape property owners face when they try to pull building permits for solar panel installation.

"Many jurisdictions in the state have adopted best practices that have significantly cut down on permitting wait times, while maintaining important public health and safety standards," said bill author Al Muratsuchi, who represents Torrance in the state Assembly. "It's time that we expand these practices statewide, which will help make solar more affordable and increase access to more California homeowners who want to control their electricity bills and generate their own clean energy."

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