A solar plant in California’s Mojave Desert co-owned by Google is so bright it’s causing birds to burst into flames.
The problem first surfaced in a compliance report on the BrightSource Energy plant late last year, but since it opened in February, wildlife officials say they’re seeing birds light up “once every two minutes”.
They even have a name for them – “streamers”, due to the long trails of smoke they leave behind.
The $2.2 billion plant, located near the Nevada border, is the largest solar thermal power plant of its kind in the world, hosting more than 300,000 mirrors that focus the sun’s power toward 120m tall “power towers”. Google is one of the plant’s three owners.
The AP reports the birds are attracted to bugs which are attracted to the light reflected off the panels. As the birds fly closer to snatch their prey, the heat intensity causes them to ignite.
BrightSource said this MacGillivray’s Warbler was killed by temperatures up to 537C.
Clean energy comes at a cost, it seems. Anywhere between a couple of thousand and 28,000 birds could die in the plant’s first year of operation, an expert for the Center for Biological Diversity environmental group told the AP.
Back in 2012, construction on the plant was halted for three months as BrightSource Energy spent $56 million to protect and relocate native tortoises on the site.
Google has deferred comment on the issue to its partners in the scheme, one of which – NRG Solar of Carlsbad, California – says it will “take this issue very seriously”.
The consortium is currently negotiating a proposal which would see it build another mirror field with larger towers on the California-Arizona border. According to wildlife officials, that plant will sit directly on a flight path of more than 100 species of birds between the Colorado River and California’s largest lake, the Salton Sea, including protected golden eagles and peregrine falcons.
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