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Debating the environmental cost-benefit of bird deaths at a California solar energy plant

by AirTalk®

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The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, is a solar thermal power plant in the California Mojave Desert. It uses heliostat mirrors to focus solar energy on boilers located on centralized solar power towers. Photo by Howard Ignatius via Flickr Creative Commons

A massive solar energy plant in the Mojave Desert touts massive environmental benefits, but now its environmental costs are causing concern. As reported by the Associated press, workers at the plant have a term for birds that fly through the plant's concentrated sun rays — "streamers," for the smoke plumes emitted when the birds ignite in mid-air. Still up for debate is the number of birds killed how many would be considered acceptable. 

The innovate plan, which opened in February, is a joint project between NRG Energy, BrightSource Energy and Google. Its inaugural announcement touted that “At full capacity, the facility’s trio of 450-foot high towers produces a gross total of 392 megawatts (MW) of solar power, enough electricity to provide 140,000 California homes with clean energy and avoid 400,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, equal to removing 72,000 vehicles off the road.”

What if the state-of-the-art facility means it’s inevitable that thousands of birds will be killed annually? What avian deterrence methods could the plant use? Do we know how successful they’ll be?


Garry George, Renewable Energy Director, Audubon California

Jeff Holland, Director of Public Relations, NRG Solar, which is a partner, along with Google and BrightSource Energy, in the Ivanpah solar facility in the Mojave Desert

Eric Davis, Assistant Regional Director, Migratory Bird Division, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Davis’ region covers California-Nevada


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