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800 Degree Heat From Solar Mirrors Frying Birds Mid Air

There is growing evidence that birds flying in the vicinity of a solar thermal power project in California’s Mojave Desert are being injured and even killed either by the solar heat that’s focused with mirrors on its three energy-collecting towers, or by colliding with the mirrors themselves.

Yet a task force set up to investigate the problem at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) has brushed aside several recommendations by the forensics laboratory of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), according to the minutes of a meeting on the subject obtained by the Los Angeles public television station KCET.

The FWS had said wildlife mortality and injury at ISEGS may have been underrepresented because of inadequate searches for injured and dead animals, and it suggested ways to make those searches more thorough.

The panel – the Avian & Bat Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) – met in Nipton, Calif., on May 20, where it dismissed several FWS recommendations.

ISEGS is a solar thermal power generator that uses arrays of mirrors, called heliostats, that reflect and narrowly focus solar heat to “power towers” filled with water. The focused solar heat reaches a temperature of 800 degrees Fahrenheit, boiling the towers’ water to generate electricity.

Dead and injured birds have been found at the plant site, having been burned, evidently by the reflected solar heat, or with other injuries because they evidently failed to recognize the mirrored heliostats as solid surfaces, much the same way that birds crash into windows.

Related Article: The Dirty Truth About Clean Energy

The purpose of the May 20 meeting was to assess whether ISEGS presents a hazard to birds flying nearby and, if so, what could be done to mitigate the hazard. The TAC agreed to one FWS proposal, using specially trained dogs to find bird carcasses within the site’s borders.

But the minutes of the meeting show that the TAC perfunctorily swept aside other suggestions that would have improved the accuracy of such surveys.

One proposal was to search for injured or dead birds outside the site. This was based on the observation of a large bird that had caught fire above ISEGS, become unstable in flight, but did not land until after it glided beyond the perimeter fence. That was rejected because the ecological consulting firm H.T. Harvey found that nearly 95 percent of singed birds were found at the plant, not outside it.


ISEGS is only one of three solar power plants in Southern California that are believed to be responsible for killing and injuring birds in flight. The other two are the Genesis Solar Energy Project in the state’s Colorado Desert and the Desert Sunlight Solar Farm, which is still under construction.

By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • Tornado1111 on July 15 2014 said:
    Where is the Environmental Protection Agency when we need them?
  • James Childress on July 15 2014 said:
    I wonder if they have considered high decibel high frequency generators that annoy the birds enough that they avoid the area?
  • Djtop711 on July 15 2014 said:
    Hopefully a solution is being worked out.
  • StraightSh00ter on July 15 2014 said:
    The birds that get zapped aren't just "flying by". Sunlight reflected by the thousands of mirrors shine on the energy collector tower, making it the brightest point in the sky. Just as moths and other insects are attracted to an outside light at night, they accumulate around the tower. And the accumulation of insects look like a banquet to the small birds, until they get in the path of those concentrated beams. Raptors are then attracted by the number of smaller birds, and become the next to go.

    It is a major coverup to ignore the dead birds outside facility because they "only" constitute an estimated 5% of the number of birds that get incinerated. That's because the birds that are likely to make it outside the facility before dying are also going to be the biggest, strongest birds getting zapped. So that 5% by NUMBER is likely to heavily weighted toward endangered raptor species. If the government "watchdogs" want to minimize the environmental damage of these solar towers [and I'm sure they do], this is a great way to do it.
  • Snake Oil Baron on July 14 2014 said:
    I have nothing against coal and I loath subsidies for unprofitable energies but come on--birds smack into everything. They even run into trees and mountains. And bursting into flames for a few milliseconds is probably no worse than starving to death while your paralyzed body is stuck in a cathedral steeple.
  • Jacob on July 13 2014 said:
    Thank you Virginia for posting the first smart comment ;). I don´t understand why people are so afraid of the inevital future to come? Just keep an open mind and try to embrace the evolution instead of making dumb politicized comments without a single constructive thought...
  • Flavio on July 12 2014 said:
    If they located a KFC nearby this could make for an energy efficient way to cook chicken. Jus sayin'....
  • someone on July 12 2014 said:
    We have plenty of coal in USA and modern tech allows it to be 99% pollution free. But Obama or Barry or whoever he is has shuttered most.
  • FauxScienceSlayer on July 11 2014 said:
    The "burned birds" are just the few that fly close to the focal point, but ANY bird that flies within the array field will suffer permanent eye damage and die a death away from the "power tower" from starvation or unseen predators. These towers are so dangerous that they have been added to Jepsen Navigation Charts, as pilots have had blinding problems miles from these bird bakers. The absurd thing is that while 800F sounds like a lot of energy, when you begin removing heat with steam generation the amount of power is minuscule, and only for a portion of daylight hours.

    These were a demonstrated failure in Spain, but US green meanies are not controlled by PROVEN FAILURES.
  • Virginia on July 11 2014 said:
    Is there a strong magnetic field or high frequency sound wave that would keep the birds away?
  • Clayton Ramer on July 11 2014 said:
    Why don't they make the solar panels to go on the outside of the water tanks? Then it wouldn't require such an absurd temperature to make it boil.

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