Ivanpah Solar Bird Kill Count Rises

Ivanpah tower in flux on September 27 | Photo: craigdietrich/Flickr/Creative Commons License

ReWire reported earlier this month that early September was tough on birds near the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System. Between September 3 and 19, we reported, 20 birds had been found dead at the plant, 13 of them showing signs of burn injuries possibly related to the plant's concentrated solar "flux."

Well, September's full data set is in, and it's not particularly good news. According to compliance documents the plant's owners filed with the California Energy Commission a total of thirty dead birds were found at the Ivanpah plant in September, with 14 reported as bearing signs of burn injuries.

The plant, which owners BrightSource, NRG Energy, and Google are building in the Ivanpah Valley near the Mojave National Preserve, is readying to go online later this year.

According to the compliance report, Ivanpah's owners conducted several surveys during September to look for injured birds both during periods when the projects tens of thousands of mirrored heliostats were focused on the boilers atop the power towers to create solar flux, as well as some surveys around units not in flux.

Those surveys were limited to the area between the power towers and the innermost "ring road," an area described by BrightSource as extending in a circle about 850 feet from each power tower. That means the biologists surveyed about 156 acres of the project, less than five percent of the project's footprint, excluding almost all of the heliostat area. If birds injured by solar flux didn't plummet almost directly to the ground after being injured, they might well have escaped detection by these surveys. Though birds can't fly well with singed feathers, that doesn't rule out gliding for a significant distance.

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The surveys were intended to determine rates of injuries from solar flux and not collisions with heliostats: another significant risk to wildlife from solar facilities. Thorough and regular surveys of the project's three heliostat fields may well have turned up additional mortalities from collision trauma.

Of the ten birds found on or after September 23 -- almost certainly coincidentally, the day ReWire ran its first detailed look at the project's bird mortalities -- all but one were listed as having died from unknown causes.The exception, a Townsend's warbler found September 30, was recorded as exhibiting "scorched or singed" injuries.

Speaking of scorching and singeing, BrightSource also reported three inadvertent fires at the site during the month of September. No injuries were reported from any of the incidents, though one of the fires -- in which a large tarp caught fire that had been covering a turbine building in lieu of a roof -- prompted staff to call the San Bernardino County Fire Department as a precaution.

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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