This Mojave Desert solar plant kills 6,000 birds a year. Here’s why that won’t change any time soon
Reporting from NIPTON, Calif. —
A macabre fireworks show unfolds each day along I-15 west of Las Vegas, as birds fly into concentrated beams of sunlight and are instantly incinerated, leaving wisps of white smoke against the blue desert sky.
Workers at the Ivanpah Solar Plant have a name for the spectacle: “Streamers.”
And the image-conscious owners of the 390-megawatt plant say they are trying everything they can think of to stop the slaughter. If you find yourself driving through California’s Mohave Desert and see these big bright towers you’re looking at the BrightSource solar concentration power plant that doubles as and avian death ray. On about 3,500 acres of land there are giant mirrors that are 163 square feet each and there are 347,000 of them reflecting onto three different 450 foot towers that you can see from the roadside. These towers are actually solar powered steam generators that produce about 1,000 gigawatts per year and can provide electricty to about 140,000 homes each year. Pretty much any bird that flies in the path of the concentrated light get’s cooked mid flight. In fact the plant’s workers say they actually ignite before they hit the ground and report that approximately 1,000 birds die each year.
Federal biologists say about 6,000 birds die from collisions or immolation annually while chasing flying insects around the facility’s three 40-story towers, which catch sunlight from five square miles of garage-door-size mirrors to drive the plant’s power-producing turbines.
Bird populations in the Mojave Desert have collapsed over the last century, and now scientists say they know why: The animals’ bodies can’t cope with the hotter and drier weather brought on by global warming.
The discovery, described this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, draws upon historical records and high-tech virtual bird modeling to explain how climate change has caused such drastic population losses — and how it will likely cause even deeper losses in the future.
“There’s just a huge and building scientific literature on how we’re screwing up biodiversity, and this is a really important contribution to it,” said Paul Ehrlich, an evolutionary ecologist at Stanford University who was not involved in the work.
As climate change and habitat destruction due to human activity continue across the globe, many species have found themselves in decline or under threat. A recent study in the journal Science, for instance, found that there are nearly 3 billion fewer birds in North America today than there were in 1970. A complex mix of factors could be to blame, including pollution and human encroachment on their habitats. But linking climate change to the decline of a specific species is often a tricky task.
Read the full story on LATimes.com.