Green Execution: Solar Power Project Killing Migratory Birds

Published November 14, 2013

Next generation solar projects in California’s Mojave Desert are creating next generation environmental destruction, scientists report, with solar panels luring migratory birds and then killing them with scorching heat.

The Palm Springs Desert Sun reports researchers found 34 dead birds at BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah solar power project during the month of September. Fifteen of the dead birds had their feathers melted by the solar project’s reflecting mirrors. Other carcasses showed similar signs of trauma from the project’s solar panels.

The solar project comprises 3,500 acres of federal land that was previously undisturbed desert habitat. More than 300,000 mirrors are spread out on the land, directing concentrated sunlight to thermal boilers atop a 459-foot tower.

Researchers believe migratory birds on their way to and from the nearby Salton Sea are lured to their death because the mirror array looks similar to sunlight reflected on water. Other birds may not be lured to the mirrors but may simply venture too close and be singed to death by the concentrated sunlight and heat.

In 2011, the federal government charged three oil companies with criminal violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act when a mere seven birds died after coming into contact with the oil companies’ wastewater retention pits.

The federal government has never pressed charges against wind or solar companies for any of the 1.4 million birds and bats killed each year in the United States by wind and solar projects. Rather than pressing charges against BrightSource, the federal government is expected to continue providing the solar power company with a sweetheart deal to develop previously undisturbed desert lands while receiving federal tax subsidies to keep the project afloat.