from the Archemedes-Mirror dept.
AP reports that wildlife investigators who watched as birds burn and fell at the Ivanpah Dry Lake Solar Tower Plant are urging California officials to halt the operator's application to build a still-bigger version until the full extent of the deaths can be assessed. Estimates per year now range from a low of about a thousand "streamers" by the plant operator to 28,000 by an expert for the Center for Biological Diversity environmental group. Those statistics haven’t curbed the enthusiasm of the Obama administration for the solar-power plant, which granted Ivanpah a $1.6 billion federal loan guarantee. The deaths are "alarming. It's hard to say whether that's the location or the technology," says Garry George, renewable-energy director for the California chapter of the Audubon Society. "There needs to be some caution." Federal wildlife officials say the plant might act as a "mega-trap" for wildlife, with the bright light of the plant attracting insects, which in turn attract insect-eating birds that fly to their death in the intensely focused light rays.
The $2.2 billion plant at Ivanpah Dry Lake near the California-Nevada border is the world's biggest plant to employ so-called power towers. More than 300,000 mirrors, each the size of a garage door, reflect solar rays onto three boiler towers each looming up to 40 stories high. The water inside is heated to produce steam, which turns turbines that generate enough electricity for 140,000 homes. While biologists say there is no known feasible way to curb the number of birds killed, the companies behind the projects say they are hoping to find one — studying whether lights, sounds or some other technology would scare them away, says Joseph Desmond, senior vice president at BrightSource Energy. Power-tower proponents are fighting to keep the deaths from forcing a pause in the building of new plants when they see the technology on the verge of becoming more affordable and accessible (PDF). When it comes to powering the country's grids, "diversity of technology ... is critical," says Thomas Conroy, a renewable-energy expert. "Nobody should be arguing let's be all coal, all solar," all wind, or all nuclear. "And every one of those technologies has a long list of pros and cons."