California's newest wind turbines may be killing more than 100,000 birds a year, according to a peer-reviewed study to be published in December. Those mortalities seem to climb the taller wind turbines get. And California wind turbines kill more wildlife per megawatt than identical turbines in other parts of the country.
What's more, though some have pointed to replacements of the old-style lattice structures holding up turbines with monopoles as a way of making wind turbines safer for birds -- by reducing the possibility that birds will try to perch on the turbine structures -- the study indicates that swapping lattice for monopole might not be the quick fix wind advocates had hoped for.
The study, conducted by Scott R. Loss and Peter P. Marra from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute's Migratory Bird Center and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Tom Will, appears in the December 2013 issue of the journal Biological Conservation.
The builders of a large solar power tower plant under construction in the Mojave Desert have released their latest monthly report to the state agency overseeing the project, and the bad news for wildlife seems to be mounting.
Not only is the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) racking up a higher toll of wildlife mortalities each month, but many of the birds reportedly found dead on the site in October may well have flown there from many miles away, raising the possibility that solar power tower projects in the California desert may well affect wildlife populations across the western half of North America.
According to a monthly compliance report furnished by BrightSource Energy and posted Tuesday on the website of the California Energy Commission (CEC), 52 birds were found dead on the nearly 4,000 acre ISEGS site in October, as were six bats. Of the 52 birds at least 13 were yellow-rumped warblers, a migratory species that had not been previously counted among the casualties at ISEGS.
Documents posted to a state agency's website Monday indicate that that agency may not be taking public comment on large desert solar plants as seriously as the law requires, treating one project in particular as a done deal even before the environmental assessment process is complete.
The document in question: a transcript of proceedings held by the California Energy Commission (CEC) on a proposed 500 megawatt solar power tower project on 3,800 acres of public land in Riverside County. Intervenors in the proceedings have been waiting for this transcript for some time. At a October 28 hearing, CEC representatives said the transcript would be available the first week of November.
The CEC didn't actually make the transcript available until Monday, November 18, a surprising 21 days after the hearing, two and a half weeks later than participants at the hearing in Palm Desert expected. And so the CEC has extended that legal brief filing deadline, adding one more incremental delay to a project whose proponents have repeatedly said cannot be delayed.
An interesting comment on the wildlife impacts of concentrating solar technology comes to us via ReWire reader Brandon Hill in Fresno County, in the form of a local news report from two years back on a BrightSource Energy project in Coalinga.
Unlike BrightSource's much larger Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System now nearing completion in the Mojave Desert, the Coalinga project --- built in partnership with the oil company Chevron -- doesn't generate electricity. Both the Coalinga and Ivanpah projects focus sunlight on a boiler with fields of mirrored heliostats, but where the Ivanpah plant will use that steam to drive electrical generating turbines, the Coalinga plant injects the steam into Chevron's Coalinga oil wells to make it easier to pump the heavy crude out of the ground.
When a school group went on a guided tour of the plant in Fresno County soon after the plant opened in late 2011, reporter Gene Haagenson tagged along to cover the event for local ABC affiliate KFSN. Haagenson caught a very interesting, notably frank exchange between a fifth-grade student and the Chevron engineer leading the tour.
If you live in Los Angeles, you may have noticed the slogans on the side of Metro buses announcing that they're part of the "nation's largest clean-air fleet," or in Culver City, that they are "powered by clean natural gas." The slogans look official, and seem to reflect the position of each city that natural gas is good for the environment. In truth, the safety and "cleanliness" of gas is still very much up for debate.
The term "Clean Natural Gas" is itself an oil and gas industry contrivance, and a misnomer for what is primarily methane -- a potent greenhouse gas. "Pound for pound," states the EPA, "the comparative impact of methane on climate change is over 20 times greater than CO2." (So if those bus slogans were truthfully public service announcements, they might read: "This bus runs on fracked gas -- a major contributor to global warming!")
Unfortunately, this is just one example of an octopus-like propaganda campaign to convince Americans that fracking is safe for public health -- the biggest arm of which runs right up and into some of our most trusted universities.
At MIT, a fracking study failed to disclose that one of its authors had joined the board of a consulting firm with oil and gas ties -- to the tune of $300,000 in compensation. At SUNY Buffalo, an investigation of oil industry bias at the Shale Resources and Society Institute resulted in its closure, and at the University of Texas at Austin, the results of a fracking study were called into question when the lead researcher turned out to be on the board of a gas driller.
While the average person may recognize the above as examples of blatant conflict of interest, to some academic insiders "frackademia" has become disturbingly common. Andrew Rosenberg of the Union for Concerned Scientists (watch him in the above video), a clearinghouse for independent science with over 400,000 members, says that "in too many instances, the oil industry is essentially purchasing the results it wants."
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has responded to our story on its comments about a "funnel effect" at an unnamed solar facility.
The quick take: ReWire nailed its identification of the unnamed solar facility in question, BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah project. We also accurately described a possible ecological trap from the project's unanticipated attractiveness to insects, which could result in exposing an entire flying food chain to risks.
But according to Jane Hendron, Public Affairs Division Chief at the Carlsbad office of USFWS, the "funnel effect" mentioned in the agency's comments on the proposed Palen Solar Electric Generating Station isn't really an "effect," and it involves an actual funnel -- or at least something that works like one.