Politics & Policy

Dead-Bird ‘Steamers’ at a California Solar Plant

Reaching temps of 1,000ºF, this Obama-favored plant incinerates up to 28,000 birds annually.

California’s massive Ivanpah solar power plant can produce enough electricity for 140,000 households — but the environmental cost is nothing less than an avian slaughter.

The plant’s 350,000 mirrors bounce sizzling sunlight to the tops of three 40-story boiler towers, heating steam for turbine electricity generators. Temperatures near the towers can reach up to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, heat certainly sufficient to fry a fowl.

“Workers at the state-of-the-art solar plant in the Mojave Desert have a name for birds that fly through the plant’s concentrated sun rays — ‘streamers,’ for the smoke plume that comes from birds that ignite in midair,” the Associated Press reports this week.

That’s a common occurrence, the AP continues; federal investigators saw a bird burn roughly every two minutes. Ivanpah owner BrightSource estimates that “about a thousand” die each year, and one environmental group says the plant kills up to 28,000 birds each year.

As the plant prepared to begin operations, workers found the winged corpses of “a peregrine falcon, a grebe, two hawks, four nighthawks, and a variety of warblers and sparrows,” the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year.

Those statistics haven’t curbed the enthusiasm of the Obama administration for the solar-power plant, which granted Ivanpah a $1.6 billion federal loan guarantee. And when the solar farm hosted its grand opening earlier this year, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz called Ivanpah “a shining example of how America is becoming a world leader in solar energy,” adding that “this project shows that building a clean-energy economy creates jobs, curbs greenhouse gas emissions, and fosters American innovation.”

Ivanpah isn’t the only green darling with a lot of bird blood on its hands, either. The American Bird Conservancy estimates wind turbines slay 440,000 birds each year, and the an analyst writing in the Wildlife Society Bulletin says it’s closer to 573,000 — in addition to 888,000 bats.

Biologists for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have already expressed concerns about these mounting bird deaths. And in a hilariously illustrated report on migratory bird mortality, the agency reported that “the greatest threat to birds, and all wildlife, continues to be loss and/or degradation of habitat due to human development and disturbance.”

The report does not specify whether high-speed turbine blades and 1,000-degree solar heat patches qualify as a “disturbance.”

— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for National Review as a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.

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