What started out as a move to save the planet has backfired and killing a staggering number of birds in the Mojave Desert.
The culprit is the BrightSource Energy plant. The $2.2 billion plant opened last February. With over 300,000 garage-door sized mirrors reflecting sunlight into boiler towers that produce enough energy for 140,000 homes, it is making birds that fly past them literally catch on fire and die.
Workers at the plant call the singed birds “streamers.” Federal Wildlife officials are investigating the plant and looking into exactly what might be causing the “streamers,” so far reporting one every two minutes in the area. Their number per year is estimated right now at 28,000 by an expert for the Center for Biological Diversity environmental group, although BrightSource says they estimate only 1,000 birds are affected.
Garry George, renewable-energy director for the California chapter of the Audubon Society, calls the deaths “alarming.”
“It’s hard to say whether that’s the location or the technology,” he said. ”There needs to be some caution.”
Wildlife officials think so far that the plant is serving as a “mega-trap” for the local wildlife. The bright light lures in insects, which in their turn lure in the birds that eat them. They have seen that the “birds entering the solar flux and igniting, consequently become a streamer.”
A spokesman for NRG Solar of Carlsbad, California, which along with Google and BrightSource own the plant, has said they take the issue seriously, but have argued that some of the clouds of smoke spotted were most likely insects or airborne pieces of trash.
By fall, the California Energy Commission is supposed to either approve or deny a proposal to build an even bigger BrightSource solar field expanding between the Joshua Tree National Park and the California-Arizona border. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials have warned the commission that such a project could be even more deadly to the local ecosystem since it’s located in the flight path of over 100 different kinds of birds.
The Audubon Society has suggested that before approving anything, the numbers of bird deaths should be tallied for a year, including during their annual migratory season.
On the other hand, experts in renewable energy don’t want the birds’ deaths to cause a step backward in the move away from coal and oil.
In the meantime, BrightSource says they are researching whether they could find a way to scare the birds away from the mirrors with lights or sounds, keeping them from getting killed.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that a renewable energy source has backfired and hurt the environment it was designed to protect. Solar farms have had a negative impact on desert tortoises and wind farms have killed birds and raptors in the past.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock