If it is for the sake of going green all is forgiven

When you’ve engaged in a lengthy writerly career you all too often find yourself saying: Darn I wish I had written that.

That was precisely the feeling when I read this in an Investor’s Business Daily editorial today:

“If as many birds being burned by solar power farms built in the U.S. were to wash up on our beaches soaked in crude oil from a leaking offshore well, the outrage would be deafening.

“But as with the wind turbines that now cover acre upon acre of former ‘pristine’ countryside, what amount to avian Cuisinarts slicing and dicing everything that flies, including endangered species, only the crickets are chirping.”

The news was reported about a week ago in a couple of online places, but not widely reported.

During a four-hour test on January 14 of the sun reflecting mirrors at the Crescent Dunes solar thermal power plant near Tonopah, 130 birds were incinerated in a solar flux, the focal point of the mirrors which eventually will be used to melt salt and drive a turbine to generate electricity. This is similar to the plant in Ivanpah, which uses water to drive turbines and also has been incinerating birds at an alarming rate — at least alarming to some.

According to Basin and Range Watch, “several biologists on the project site during surveys reported seeing the birds fly into the solar flux, ‘turn white, and vaporize.’ No remains were found.”

This happened a month before another golden eagle was found dead at the Spring Valley wind farm near Ely. A golden eagle was killed there two years ago. The so-called allowable “take” for eagles at the wind farm is one. With this second death a Technical Advisory Committee is supposed to meet and recommend what mitigation to take, which could curtail operation of turbines or even shut down turbines.

The outcry has largely been deafening silence.

A company representative for SolarReserve, the operator of Crescent Dunes, said that apparently the bird deaths occurred during something called “standby” where the mirrors were focused and formed a visible bright spot in the sky above the tower during testing. The company says that once the mirrors are focused on the tower, it appears that the brightness and solid structure is enough to scare away the birds.

The solution they came up with for standby, which during normal operation will be for a few minutes each day during the early morning, is to spread out the mirror pointing in more of a distributed shape covering hundreds of meters just above the tower so that no single point in the sky has too high of a concentration.

The representative said this change appears to have corrected the problem as the company reports zero bird fatalities since they implemented this solution approximately 30 days ago, despite being in the standby position as well as focused on the tower for most days over the past few weeks. They said this is being monitored by an independent environmental consultant, who is carefully watching the area around the tower with high powered binoculars at all times during testing.

The Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project in February 2014 | Photo: Matt Hiontsa/Flickr/Creative Commons License


11 comments on “If it is for the sake of going green all is forgiven

  1. Wonder if Dawn dishwashing soap can clean an incinerated bird? It does restore those covered with that nasty oil.

  2. Couldn’t agree more Mr. Mitchell…it’s hypocrisy at it’s finest!

  3. The following is a statement from SolarReserve CEO, Kevin Smith:

    “SolarReserve takes the issue of avian safety seriously. As such, during the course of pre-operational testing at Crescent Dunes, we have been successful in developing and implementing new mitigation efforts that maximize avian safety. Over the last 30 days of commissioning activities, which includes extended periods of concentrated sunlight (flux) on the tower, the Crescent Dunes project has only experienced one avian incident (a common songbird) attributed to the solar facility. In the early stages of testing, during the week of January 11, an estimated 130 avian safety issues were observed by the on-site environmental biologist. Once it was communicated to SolarReserve that there were avian safety issues, action was immediately taken to halt testing in order to evaluate the situation and prevent further issues. Our engineers worked diligently to successfully modify our testing methods and develop innovative mitigation procedures that have proven to resolve the identified avian safety issues. Importantly, we’re sharing the new safety methods with the solar tower industry so that changes can be made to protect wildlife and move forward with this revolutionary technology.

    “One of the fundamental goals for SolarReserve is minimizing the environmental impacts of its projects at every stage – from site selection and construction, to full operational use. In addition to mitigation activities and procedures, careful site selection had resulted in minimal effects on wildlife, with avian safety one of our top priorities. This careful site selection resulted in zero desert tortoises on site and no current identified wildlife issues. Understanding the importance of avian populations, SolarReserve also provides for an independent biologist to be onsite at Crescent Dunes to carefully observe avian activities, and report any issues directly to the BLM. SolarReserve remains committed to protecting our planet and providing a healthy and secure future for generations to come. Our solar energy technology is a viable alternative to fossil-based electricity generation, with the potential to meaningfully reduce reliance on fossil fuels and the associated carbon pollution, so that humans and birds can both thrive together in a world affected by climate change.”


    The statement does not explain how this mitigation was carried out, but the blog posting above has been updated with an explanation from a company spokesman.

    Once Crescent Dunes Solar project is complete, it has a contract to sell power to NV Energy for 13.5 cents per kWh. Gas-fired plants can produce electricity for about 3 cents per kWh. NV Energy retails residential power for less than 12 cents per kWh.

  4. Rincon says:

    Hmmm…what do they do when a flock of geese starts hanging around an airport? Unless they’re a bunch of conservative ideologues, I’ll bet they don’t stand around wringing their hands calling for closure of the airport. It’s a solvable problem. And for those with short memories, here are the causes of bird deaths in North America. Solar hasn’t made the list yet, but wind power does. Turbines kill 1-5 million birds per year, cats over 500 million and in first place, windows with about 985 million. If you want to save a lot of birds,deal with the 1%, not the 99%. http://www.sibleyguides.com/conservation/causes-of-bird-mortality/

  5. Zip-a-Dee says:

    Makes one wonder if it’s to be used for some other reason than increasing price hikes, something on the lines of geo-engeering. And brings to mind he project they had in mind for the Bundy Ranch area.

  6. Steve says:

    Yup, airports have a lot of answers,,,mostly due to the fact that bird strikes can kill people.

    In any case, look to airports to solve bird bird problems at solar plants…all of them, even the ones that look like bodies of water from the air.

    Can’t compare cat caused bird deaths in this…those are considered natural.

  7. Rincon says:

    Artificial or not, you’re talking about a fart in a hurricane.

  8. Steve says:

    Better to stop the fart before it becomes a hurricane…right, Rincon?

  9. Rincon says:

    Don’t know of any farts that have become hurricanes…although I’ve heard folklore 🙂

  10. mikelowe2013 says:

    So 3 wrongs make a right, Rincon? 1-5 million bird deaths due to windmills, plus another unknown number from solar. How can you alleged greenies look yourselves in the mirror? Especially when you know, if you follow the science, that the power produced by these monstrosities is a tiny fraction of the lying manufacturers’ nameplate figures. It looks as if economics will eventually kill these devices – probably before any greenie is heard to criticise them!

  11. Rincon says:

    Only a Conservative could twist logic to this extreme. Anything to promote the ideology. The answer is simple and obvious. If we’re really worried about the one million, then save a million or so of the 500 million because it would be so cheap and easy.

    As for costs, what is the lost value of having the fish in every navigable body of water in Illinois rendered toxic with mercury form the burning of coal? Or the excess suffering of asthmatics or the excess deaths from lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease? Shouldn’t Missouri pay us something for that? And shouldn’t Illinois pay Michigan? Get rid of both the fossil fuel and wind energy subsidies, add a 2 cent per KWH tax to coal plants for all of the problems they cause. Some of that 2 cents could be used in place of general funds already spent such as the Federal Black Lung Fund. Then the playing field would be level.

    Greenhouse benefits of course, must be considered zero since the Conservatives of this country have joined the War on Science (cover article of the 3/15 issue of Nat Geo). By declaring it a nonproblem, their religion says it will all go away. Those benefits are probably worth another 2 cents, but I realize you can’t fight religion.

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