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