Why Birds Are Igniting in Midair Over California

Cleaner energy sometimes comes at a cost

By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff

Posted Aug 19, 2014 6:33 AM CDT

(Newser) – A cutting-edge solar technology in California's Mojave Desert may have a bit too much cut. Wildlife officials say they've counted one bird being scorched to death every two minutes by intensely focused rays of light at the BrightSource Energy plant, considered the largest solar thermal power plant of its kind in the world. The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System uses more than 300,000 mirrors the size of garage doors to focus the sun's power toward "power towers" as many as 40 stories tall, and can power as many as 140,000 homes. Google is one of three owners of the plant at Ivanpah Dry Lake, near the Nevada border.

Light beams from the $2.2 billion plant that opened in February are said to be so bright they dazzle pilots coming in and out of Los Angeles and Las Vegas, reports the AP. The birds igniting in midair are thought to come in droves because they are following bugs that are attracted to the light. Wildlife experts say that at least 1,000 and as many as 28,000 birds will die within a year, and Grist reports that the plant has had problems with tortoises as well—scores of them were uprooted from their homes when the plant was constructed, Businessweek reported in 2012. Federal wildlife officials warn that the "mega-trap" needs to be studied closely before more power-tower plants are opened. (Last year, the federal government decided to allow some wind farms to kill bald eagles without penalty.)

This Aug. 13, 2014 photo shows an array of mirrors at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System near Primm, Nev.
This Aug. 13, 2014 photo shows an array of mirrors at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System near Primm, Nev.   (AP Photo/John Locher)
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