The Wall Street Journal reports that the Ivanpah solar-power facility is controversial because it “costs about four times as much as a conventional natural-gas–fired plant but will produce far less electricity.” Once that electricity goes online, customers can expect to pay twice as much for it, if not more. No one knows for sure, because the utilities and state regulators involved haven’t disclosed that information.
Oh yeah, and the plant is apparently scorching a bunch of birds to death.
Over the past several months, one of the companies behind the Ivanpah plant, BrightSource Energy, has been finding “dozens” of dead birds in the area — falcons, hawks, warblers, sparrows, grebes — some of which have suffered burns to their feathers.
That was just during the testing and construction phase. State regulators had expected a fair number of birds to die once Ivanpah became fully operational, but the deaths so far came as something of a surprise. The birds appear to have been scorched by the intense heat (up to 1,000° F) created by sunlight reflecting off the facility’s nearly 350,000 giant mirrors.
Government biologists have, ironically enough, raised concerns about the environmental impact of massive green-energy projects such as Ivanpah, noting that protected species such as golden eagles could be at risk. They think the birds may be drawn to the solar mirrors because their reflection resembles that of a lake.
Meanwhile, advocacy groups have complained that in the federal government’s rush to build massive green-energy projects with taxpayer dollars, it has bypassed or ignored longstanding regulations meant to protect wildlife as well as cultural artifacts. In some cases, local Indian tribes have urged the Obama administration to end its “frantic pursuit” of solar projects in the Mojave Desert that have encroached on ancient burial grounds.
In 2012, construction on the Genesis Solar Energy Project in Riverside Valley, Calif., ran into trouble when a number of kit foxes — a protected species under state law — died after developing distemper. Biologists suspected that stress brought on by the disturbance in their natural habitat had made the foxes susceptible to the disease. It was the first known outbreak of its kind. Genesis had been the recipient of an $852 million taxpayer-backed loan.
Thanks to the proliferation of wind farms in California, golden eagles have been dropping like flies — chopped out of the sky by giant turbine blades spinning as fast as 200 miles per hour. Bald eagles have also died. Although it’s technically illegal to kill these birds, the Obama administration has assured wind-power companies, many of which are recipients of federal grants or loans, that they won’t face prosecution. And the slaughter continues.
— Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online.