Science Incomplete on 'Stealth' Solar Wildlife Deaths

A Costa's hummingbird, one of the species commonly recovered dead at Ivanpah | Photo: eugene beckes/Flickr/Creative Commons License

We reported earlier this week on a suggestion by state agency scientists that the concentrated solar energy at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System might be killing birds without causing obvious visible burns to their feathers or skin. Now, a Federal wildlife investigations lab says there's no evidence to support that claim -- but it also says that might be because bird carcasses are rarely recovered from Ivanpah in good enough condition to study.

On Monday, our report said that California Energy Commission staff scientists Geoff Lesh and Brett Fooks had uncovered evidence that Ivanpah's concentrated "solar flux" could be killing birds that fly through the facility without causing significant external damage.

But when the commission's Chris Huntley checked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's forensics lab in Ashland, Oregon to see whether investigators there concurred with Lesh and Fooks, the response was essentially that carcass surveys at Ivanpah haven't given the lab the material they'd need to say yes or no.

L.A. to Break Ground on Big Desert Solar Project

Artist's rendition, Beacon Solar project | Image: California Energy Commission

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and a handful of solar contractors will celebrate the start of construction Wednesday on the Beacon Solar Project near the Kern County town of Cantil. The 250-megawatt project will be built on land adjacent to State Route 14 four miles south of Red Rock Canyon State Park.

LADWP bought the property in late 2012 from NextEra Energy, which had planned to build a solar facility there using parabolic trough mirrors, a technology that concentrates the sun's energy. Instead, LADWP will be using photovoltaic, or PV, panels on the site, which means the remote project in the western Mojave Desert marks another milestone in the last few years' dramatic shift in the solar industry from solar thermal to PV. Since 2007, the price of PV has dropped dramatically, making solar thermal increasingly uncompetitive.

The project will be built by SunEdison and Hecate Energy, which both agreed to build additional solar power stations within Los Angeles city limits. These urban solar projects will total 50 megawatts.

Feds Asked to Rethink Energy Project Near Joshua Tree National Park

Eagle Mountain Mine, site of a proposed 21,000 acre-foot energy storage reservoir system | Photo: Chris Clarke | KCETLink

A desert protection group has formally asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reconsider its approval of a large pumped storage project near Joshua Tree National Park. In a formal legal request filed Monday, the Riverside County-based Desert Protection Society charges that FERC's approval of the controversial Eagle Crest pumped storage project violates several federal laws and should be reconsidered.

The group also says the project poses an undue threat to the Chuckwalla Valley's groundwater, as well as to wildlife including the Federally threatened desert tortoise.

The project, which FERC approved in June, would consist of two reservoirs holding about 21,000 acre-feet of locally pumped groundwater on the old Kaiser Eagle Mountain Mine property at the east end of Joshua Tree National Park. Environmental activists and the National Park Service have said the project would threaten the Park's desert tortoises by providing a gathering place for tortoise-eating ravens, and could permanently damage the Chuckwalla valley aquifer.

Proposed Solar Plant Would Kill More Than Twice as Many Birds As Ivanpah

Power tower at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System | Photo: sslopek/Flickr/Creative Commons License

A solar power tower facility proposed for Riverside County would kill or injure more than twice as many birds with its concentrated solar radiation as compared to an existing solar project in San Bernardino County, according to a document published by the California Energy Commission on Friday.

The document, which contains testimony from commission staff submitted as part of upcoming hearings on the proposed Palen Solar Electric Generating System, estimates that the dangerous zone of concentrated solar "flux" around each of the project's two 750-foot power towers would be twice as large as those around the three towers at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System near the Mojave National Preserve.

That would make each of the Palen towers almost four times as dangerous as their counterparts at Ivanpah, say commission staff, so that even with just two towers compared to Ivanpah's three, Palen would likely pose a 2.5 times greater risk to birds flying near the facility.

Federal Study Confirms Aviation Glare Hazard From Solar Project

Photos of glare from the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, taken from an airliner approximately 40 miles away | Photo: Mike Pasqualetti, Arizona State University, via Sandia National Laboratories

A federal laboratory has released its report on hazards from glare at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in San Bernardino County and the risk that glare poses to aviation in the area. That report isn't good news for those flying between L.A. and Vegas.

ReWire reported in March on complaints from pilots flying near the 390-megawatt solar power tower plant that the facility's tens of thousands of mirrors created intense and potentially hazardous glare that interfered with the pilots' ability to scan the air for nearby aircraft. In that month, Ivanpah's owner Energy Services, a division of NRG Energy, replied to state regulators that the glare was likely caused by mirrored heliostats that had not yet been "calibrated," implying that the issue would be largely fixed once the plant went online.

But a study from the Sandia National Laboratories published on the California Energy Commission website Thursday found that significant and potentially hazardous amounts of glare are created when the facility's heliostats are in what the operators call "standby position," the default position for heliostats not aimed directly at the plant's boilers.

Study: Rooftop Solar Customers Don't Raise Costs For Others

Solar parking at the Las Vegas Natural History Museum | Photo: time anchor/Flickr/Creative Commons License

A new study commissioned by the Nevada Public Utilities Commission finds that rooftop solar panel owners taking part in the state's ongoing net metering program won't be raising the electric bills of their non-solar neighbors.

The study, conducted by the San Francisco-based energy consulting firm Energy + Environmental Economics (E3), found that despite dire predictions from utilities in other states, net metering customers in Nevada will have "no substantial impact" on costs borne by non-solar ratepayers.

Instead, net metering customers will allow the state savings of somewhere around $166 million in avoided transmission network and generation costs, all of which would have shown up on Nevadans' electric bills.