A solar farm project worth nearly $2.2 billion officially opened this week in California, but its future remains uncertain because the technology it uses is suspected of slaughtering local birds.
The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station in Ivanpah Dry Lake, Calif., covers nearly five square miles of federal land and consists of three towers nearly 40-stories tall. Surrounding each tower are nearly 350,000 mirrors, “each the size of a garage door,” according to the Wall Street Journal, that reflect sunlight back to boilers atop the towers.
That’s where the energy is created.
The three companies behind the project, NRG Energy Inc., Google and BrightSource Energy, claim the “tower power” solar technology can power up to nearly 140,000 homes per year.
The Ivanpah project, which received a federal loan guarantee of approximately $1.6 billion, received praise Thursday from U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.
But there’s a slight problem: The intense heat created by the thousands of mirrors, which can reach nearly 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, appears to be incinerating birds that fly near the towers.
Over the past few months, the scorched carcasses of dozens of dead birds have littered the grounds around the Ivanpah plant, Brightsource, which is based in Oaklandm Calif., said.
Sources involved in the projected originally estimated that some birds would be killed, but they had not counted on so many.
Federal biologists noted that the birds appeared to have singed or burned feathers.
Obviously, the deaths have raised concerns from environmental activists and state and federal wildlife regulators, who are currently overseeing a two-year study of the facility’s effects on birds.
“With the data we’ve gathered, it’s far too early in the process to draw any definitive conclusions about long-term impacts on avian or other species,” NRG Energy spokesman Jeff Holland said.
For its part, BrightSource has “confidence in the technology and its ability to operate and perform as expected,” spokesman Joe Desmond said, adding that he believes the company will find a solution for its bird incineration problem.
However, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists are worried about the companies’ future plans to open similar projects near the state’s Joshua Tree National Park, explaining that the towers could pose a risk to golden eagles and other protected species.
“We’re trying to figure out how big the problem is and what we can do to minimize bird mortalities,” Eric Davis, assistant regional director for migratory birds at the federal agency’s Sacramento, Calif., office told the Journal. “When you have new technologies, you don’t know what the impacts are going to be.”
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