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Power Earth

Solar Plant Sets Birds On Fire As They Fly Overhead 521

Posted by Soulskill
from the free-hot-wings dept.
Elledan writes: Federal investigators in California have requested that BrightSource — owner of thermal solar plants — halt the construction of more (and bigger) plants until their impact on wildlife has been further investigated. "Unlike many other solar plants, the Ivanpah plant does not generate energy using photovoltaic solar panels. Instead, it has more than 300,000 mirrors, each the size of a garage door. Together, they cover 1,416 hectares. Each mirror collects and reflects solar rays, focusing and concentrating solar energy from their entire surfaces upward onto three boiler towers, each looming up to 40 stories high. The solar energy heats the water inside the towers to produce steam, which turns turbines that generate enough electricity for 140,000 homes." The concentrated solar energy chars and incinerates the feathers of passing birds. BrightSource estimates about a thousand bird die this way every year, but an environmental group claims the real number is much higher.
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Solar Plant Sets Birds On Fire As They Fly Overhead

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  • god dammit. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rogoshen1 (2922505) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @02:15AM (#47709951)

    Number of birds killed by oil spills?
    Number of birds killed by air pollution?

    Thanks California. Human impact of using coal fired plants? Nope, think of the children has been replaced by "think of the birds".

    • Re:god dammit. (Score:5, Informative)

      by itzdandy (183397) <dandenson&gmail,com> on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @02:17AM (#47709967) Homepage

      ~3 birds each day seems like a lot of KFC for a power plant....

      anyway, seems like the environmental impact is quite less than mining of coal etc etc, and more easily solved....audible chirps, clicks, etc to scare the birds away? Or maybe a little metal eagle or hawk statue on the roof..

      • Re:god dammit. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @02:28AM (#47710001)
        Or even: "BrightSource also is offering $1.8 million in compensation for anticipated bird deaths at Palen, Desmond said. The company is proposing the money for programs such as those to spay and neuter domestic cats, which a government study found kill over 1.4 billion birds a year."
        • Re:god dammit. (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @02:40AM (#47710049)

          Yes, but those eco-nazis are all cat ladies, they don't care that cats kill billions of birds

        • Re:god dammit. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by jklovanc (1603149) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @03:40AM (#47710281)

          Decreasing the number of birds killed in high population areas does not compensate for killing birds in a low population desert area. For example, raptors are attracted and killed because prey birds are attracted to the bugs which are attracted to the light. Very few raptors are killed by cats. Raptors are much more endangered than the song birds generally killed by cats. All birds are not equal.

          • Re:god dammit. (Score:5, Interesting)

            by gymell (668626) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @12:35PM (#47713025)
            I agree with your sentiment, but as someone who volunteers with raptor rehabilitation, I can speak from some experience. Actually more raptors than you might think are killed by cats. There are many raptor species which are quite small and easily taken by a cat. And of course all are vulnerable when in the nest or just after fledging, unable to fly or defend themselves. People always ask me if a raptor would take their pet cat, and I always tell them that the raptor is much more in danger from the cat than the other way around. Also there are many endangered songbirds (grassland species, neotropical migrants, etc), and many cats in both low and high population areas.

            That all being said, the environmental impact of these supposed "green" energy sources is significant. The production of biofuels like ethanol has decimated habitat, the dangers of wind power to raptors are well known, and now this. There needs to be more study beforehand rather than after the fact. And green energy apologists need to concede that their industry is just as hypocritical about the environment as any other energy producer.
      • Re:god dammit. (Score:4, Informative)

        by Black Parrot (19622) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @02:31AM (#47710025)

        FWIW, windmills and skyscrapers kill a lot of birds too.

        And automobiles, for that matter.

        • Re:god dammit. (Score:5, Interesting)

          by captainpanic (1173915) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @03:24AM (#47710203)

          But think of the jet engines!

          Also, according to his study, windmills 'save' birds, because they replace other, more harmful ways to generate electricity.
          http://reneweconomy.com.au/201... [reneweconomy.com.au]

        • Re:god dammit. (Score:5, Informative)

          by AmiMoJo (196126) * <mojo@@@world3...net> on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @03:35AM (#47710251) Homepage

          FWIW, windmills and skyscrapers kill a lot of birds too.

          Lots of things kill birds, and actually wind turbines are pretty low on the scale. Even nuclear plants kill more by some estimates:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E... [wikipedia.org]

          • by mysidia (191772)

            Lots of things kill birds, and actually wind turbines are pretty low on the scale. Even nuclear plants kill more by some estimates:

            Nuclear power is still likely bird-safer.

            I don't want aggregate stats on total number of birds killed by different technologies.

            I want Number of birds killed per hundred thousands of watts generated. If all power plants were nuclear, then 100% of the birds killed in power generation would be by nuclear. That doesn't mean that Nuclear plants are safer for birds than wind tur

            • by raymorris (2726007) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @08:53AM (#47711399)

              I don't have figures for birds specifically handy, but I can tell you the best and worst for wildlife generally. Ignoring minor things like tidal power, the two best are geothermal and nuclear. It's too bad that geothermal is limited to certain geological areas, because it's pretty good on all measures. It releases some greenhouse gases and often requires fracking, but it's pretty safe for wildlife and generally a good idea. Nuclear is quite clean, except of course on the two instances of a major accident.

              The worst for wildlife are coal and hydroelectric dams. Hydro surprises some people, but in the best case a dam starts outby destroying a large swath of habitat, then permanently disrupts fish migration and the ecosystems dependant on the waterway. In the worst case, Banqiao. The Banqiao hydroelectric dam disaster was far, far worse than any nuclear accident ever has been.

              • Ps, International Rivers is a good place to start if you want to know more about the environmental damage done by dams, particularly large dams as used for hydroelectric power. They are advocates of course ; just as the ASPCA isn't objective about animals, International Rivers isn't objective about rivers. They advocate for what they believe is right, but each is a good source of information about their side of the side of the issue.

          • Re:god dammit. (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Mr D from 63 (3395377) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @08:11AM (#47711151)
            A bit more info.......Bird kills from conventional power plants, be they fossil or nuclear, are primarily due to cooling towers & water intakes, and for fossil, smokestacks and emissions. No bird kills from operating nuclear plants are related to radiological sources.
          • by Layzej (1976930)
            For reference, a skyscraper is expected to kill 24 birds a year [washingtonpost.com]. Quite a bit less than the 1000 per solar collector, but it turns out to be a rather large number as we have quite a few skyscrapers.
        • by Solandri (704621) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @05:34AM (#47710613)
          Hawks and other raptors kill lots of birds too. So if you really want to stop the carnage, you should kill them too.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @05:46AM (#47710643)

          I find that hard to believe - very few automobiles get killed by skyscrapers in my experience.

        • by wvmarle (1070040)

          The number of birds killed by windmills is actually quite low: apparently the woosh-woosh sound of the blades cutting through the wind is enough to scare most birds away.

        • by jheath314 (916607)

          "Birds can fly into the rotors. Then they have to send the janitor Steve out to clean the thing, and it just ruins his day. Then he goes home and beats his kids. So if you support wind energy, you support domestic violence [bash.org]."

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Add KFC next to solar powerplant... problem fixed!

      • Or worst case scenario they could set up some sort of bird house program (away from the site) to encourage breeding to offset the numbers lost.

      • by epyT-R (613989)

        How about just building these things out in the deserts?

      • by Daemonik (171801)
        House cats kill more birds than this. It's all relative.
      • Re:god dammit. (Score:5, Informative)

        by wallsg (58203) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @03:23AM (#47710201)

        I think it's funny that BrightSource's bird kill numbers are being trusted when they say 1,000 per year. This story [abc22now.com] says that "federal wildlife investigators" are estimating one "streamer" every two minutes on average. That would be 240 per day assuming 8 hours of operation. The Center for Biological Diversity estimates 28,000 per year. That's only about 76 per day.

        The Exxon Valdez spill killed (from my quick search) an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 birds, about what this would kill in 10 years or so at mid-20k birds killed per year. So, build 10 of these plants (or larger with even more roasting capacity) and you have the equivalent (in bird deaths) of an Exxon Valdez oil spill each year. A wise sage once said "It's not easy being green."

        If this were a coal or oil source quoting bird kills, would people be so willing to accept their numbers at face value? BrightSource is wanting to build a much larger plant right in a migratory corridor. They have a strong incentive to lie about the numbers.

        Also, if you want to compare birds killed here to birds killed by "dirty" energy, scale this ONE complex's Kill per Megawatt up from its (planned) capacity of 392 MW to that of what you're comparing to. Assuming that the plant generates power 8 hours per day year round at 100%, you get about 3.2 GWh of electricity. A search found that for 2010 in the US coal power production was a bit larger than that at 1,994,000 GWh. So, multiply the bird kills by over 600,000 (1,994,000 / 3.2) and you can now compare the kills scaled for power generated. That would be scaling to over 600 million birds by BrightSource numbers and about 17 billion by the environmental group's numbers. The "federal wildlife investigator's" numbers would yield somewhere around 53 billion. I wonder how much coal could be saved by just burning 53 billion birds each year instead...

        Don't forget to add in the tortoise habit that was damaged to build this too. I'm trying to think of the name of the thin, extremely fragile layer of crust on undisturbed desert ground that environmental groups want to shut down land so people won't walk on it. (It isn't Desert Varnish. That's what's on rocks.) It takes forever for it to recover. All gone on that six-and-a-quarter square mile site.

        But on the bright side, ha ha, at least the owls are safe.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by wallsg (58203)

          Oops. Math error. Divide all of my numbers by 365.

          So only about 1.5 to 2 million birds (BrightSource) to 46 million (green group) to 145 million (government).

        • I'm trying to think of the name of the thin, extremely fragile layer of crust on undisturbed desert ground that environmental groups want to shut down land so people won't walk on it.

          That's cryptobiotic soil, I think. Worth preserving, but I think we can stand to lose a few square miles of it in exchange for power for 100k+ homes. This isn't random people walking or driving over it for a moment and then leaving, this is permanently putting a piece of desert to useful work.

      • by nospam007 (722110) *

        "~3 birds each day seems like a lot of KFC for a power plant...."

        Indeed, it's about what my cat does damage in 4-5 hours.

    • by johnjones (14274)

      had the same thought...

        what about Airports ?

      deploy the same methods they do chirps/sounds and eagle surly someone thought of that and suggested it already ???

      personally I see this as far better method to generate electricity than polluting photoelectric cells... they deserve a congratulations !

       

    • Thanks California.

      Don't blame California. The idiots complaining about this are from the federal government.

    • by saskboy (600063) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @02:41AM (#47710057) Homepage Journal

      Crunching the numbers, it's foolish to delay solar power adoption for even 28K birds a year.

      Climate change is expected to soon kill off 1/8th of all bird species.
      http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/... [www.cbc.ca]

      200M birds die from cats each year in Canada ( which has the human population of California).
      http://www.cbc.ca/news/politic... [www.cbc.ca]

      Either stop climate change pollution, or kiss some birds goodbye (peck on the cheek).

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by bradley13 (1118935)

        I'll buy your number for cats - there are hundreds of millions of them, and they love to hunt birds. A power plant that kills a few thousand is completely irrelevant in comparison, but these are clueless "progressive" types, they aren't expected to understand basic math.

        I'll pass on the latest climate change panic...

      • by N1AK (864906)

        Crunching the numbers, it's foolish to delay solar power adoption for even 28K birds a year.

        That's 28,000 birds for this current, small, solar installation: 0.4GWh, when the US uses tends of thousands of GWh. Scale it up to just 1% of US power generation and you'll be talking about millions of birds a year. It may well be that it is the least harmful way of generating electricity, but just saying cats kill more (which is an issue in itself!) doesn't make it unimportant. Personally I think it's very importan

        • Cats killing birds is not an issue. Those little ground finches? The sparrows? They're prolific. They climb into other birds's nests and destroy eggs. They kill small birds. They're vicious, hateful little bastards, and they're extincting the native species of the United States.

          95% of birds I see are sparrows now. They're ground-foraging. We need more cats.

  • The concentrated solar energy chars and incinerates the feathers of passing birds. BrightSource estimates about a thousand bird die this way every year...

    Probably doesn't taste like chicken though as chickens can't fly.

    • Probably doesn't taste like chicken though as chickens can't fly.

      Like sheep, they don't fly so much as plummet.

      (Actually, chickens can sort of fake it enough to get out of uncovered pens on occasion)

    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      Chickens can definitely fly. I've seen them fly on many occasions. Sure they're nowhere near as good as a seagull or an unladen swallow, they can get off the ground and fly short distances. This is why chickens are either kept indoors or have their wings clipped (and now you know where the expression comes from), as otherwise they'd fly out of their pen.

  • by Nyder (754090) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @02:24AM (#47709989) Journal

    No seriously, I'd love to see a video of this.

    Very interesting problem, wonder how it can be solved?

    • We have those ultrasound acoustic weapons - highly directional noise projectors. Presumably the volume of wildlife isn't very high, so you could watch the sky with a camera and then direct some sound which they treat as "fly away from" at any birds which crossed over a safe zone. Most nearby wildlife would quickly figure out where not to go.

  • Hydroelectric Dams (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Hadlock (143607) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @02:28AM (#47710003) Homepage Journal

    Mortality rate of fish through the turbine is close to 10%
     
    Except fish are slimy, scaly and make weird mouth shapes when you pull them out of the water to look at them. They look pretty awkward.
     
    Birds on the other hand, are beautiful creatures flying through the air, truly, beautiful, feathered friends, God's own creations.
     
    But if 3 birds die in a 3500 acre site per day, heaven help us all for destroying nature. I can go out in my back yard and shake the six to eight trees on my half-acre and watch at least four birds fly out.

  • by Black Parrot (19622) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @02:29AM (#47710009)

    Why not skip all the expensive equipment and just use birds for fuel?

  • From the article;

    Estimates per year now range from a low of about a thousand by BrightSource to 28,000 by an expert for the Center for Biological Diversity environmental group.

    A thousand is not much of an issue but 28,000 could be. Both are estimates and it should be looked into.

    • by saskboy (600063)

      Looked into, but not freaked out about. Cats kill hundreds of millions of birds each year. 200M die in Canada alone.
      200,000,000
      vs.
      28,000?

      It's not even close. Delaying a switch to solar is much more deadly for birds, as it's expected 1/8th of species will soon (within decades) become extinct due to climate change.

      • by jklovanc (1603149)

        I question the logic a bit.
        1. We are talking about the desert where birds are more scarce that forested areas.
        2. This is only one plant. What happens when there are 100 or 1,000 such plants?
        3. Just because there are worse problem does not mean that we should ignore lesser problem.

        • by Smidge204 (605297)

          1. Solar Thermal plants are built in the desert because that's where they have the most ideal operating conditions. The fact that there are more birds in forests than deserts is completely irrelevant because they don't build concentrating solar plants in forests.

          2. We would expect the casualties to scale roughly with the number of plants, so is you had 1,000 such plants, that would be 1,000x the casualties. Still a drop in the bucket compared to the billions of birds killed by feral cats every year in North

    • ...set up some streaming cameras. I'm sure the nerds on the Internet will write something to count them.

      Or are they afraid the videos will go viral. WATCH BIRDS GET ROASTED OMG WTF LOL!!!!

  • LOL (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Tailhook (98486)

    This has been going on for months and months. I wondered how long it would take Slashdot to finally surface it.

    This is Brightsource in Mohave. Feinstein et. al. held it up for years to protect turtles that were supposedly endangered.

    Now it's frying birds. Certain species could be wiped out because they happen to inhabit the area.

    This is the no. 1 best contemporary example of exactly why renewables will never displace more than a trivially small fraction of electric supply in the Western world; land use a

  • TANSTAAFL (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bradley13 (1118935) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @02:47AM (#47710083) Homepage

    Every kind of energy generation has a price. It's the price of civilization. Only in California could this come as a surprise...

  • NIMBYs? Crackpots? (Score:5, Informative)

    by YesIAmAScript (886271) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @02:51AM (#47710101)

    California has had 2-3 of these running for decades. Yes, newer ones are bigger, but even the smaller ones like the one in Coalinga can fry a bird if it flies near the focal point.

    Maybe just stop building these. They are quite expensive. They are the most expensive source of electricity, bar none.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C... [wikipedia.org] (sort by levelised cost).

  • by penguinoid (724646) <spambait001@yahoo.com> on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @02:52AM (#47710107) Homepage Journal

    Open a new Kentucky Fried Bird! Offers only the finest organic, free-range birds, with no added hormones or antibiotics and fed only their natural diet. Guaranteed to be extra-crispy!

  • A rebrand and a restaurant license, and they are golden: BrightSource Fried Poultry and Energy.

    Think about it...California won't be shutting KFC down anytime soon, and they are not kind to birds. [kentuckyfriedcruelty.com]
  • ... seriously I hope that there is some areal indication that this area should be avoided by any parachuters or hang glider pilots who are blown off course
  • According to Science News, anywhere from 365 million to 990 million birds die each year in the United States from crashing in to windows. Science News also reports studies that show 1.3 to 4 Billion birds die each year in the US because of cats. Compared to those numbers, power generation facility deaths are not even a blip.

    • by jklovanc (1603149) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @04:12AM (#47710385)

      Most glazed windows are in areas of high bird populations. Birds and people like similar environments. Deserts where these plants are located have much lower bird populations and much rarer birds. Raw numbers are meaningless. It is proportion of population that matters.

    • by N1AK (864906)
      Smaller but not insignificant. If 28,000 birds are dieing to generate 0.4GWh then millions would die just to generate 1% of America's energy needs. Personally I can't understand why it's ok to own cats and negligently allow them to hunt but apparently society is fine with that, but it doesn't mean that we should ignore other issues because we're doing that wrong.
  • by alexibu (1071218) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @03:37AM (#47710263)
    There was a paper in the 80s about research done on Solar One - the first of these type of plants - I can't locate it right now.

    From memory, it found most birds were killed by collision with the mirrors and only a few were killed by the concentrated radiation.

    Glazed windows kill birds in the same way that mirrors do.
  • Solar to heat to mechanical to electricity as already reached its maximum efficiency.

    Photovoltaic has still many recent discoveries for great efficiency improvements, and more are likely to come.

    Using heat for conversion is degrading the energy to its worst and less usable form, direct conversion is the way to go. Halting those heat projects is good news.

    • by Dorianny (1847922) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @04:48AM (#47710473) Journal

      Solar to heat to mechanical to electricity as already reached its maximum efficiency.

      Photovoltaic has still many recent discoveries for great efficiency improvements, and more are likely to come.

      Using heat for conversion is degrading the energy to its worst and less usable form, direct conversion is the way to go. Halting those heat projects is good news.

      The big advantage heat-conversion plants have is that you can heat slow cooling material such as salt which can continue production electricity long after the sun has set, effectively turning it into a electricity storage medium. The big problem large scale use of Photovoltaic has, is that we do not have a cheap and scalable way to store generated electricity for use when needed, not just when the sun is shining.

  • Buy up some cats from a shelter and roast them too to cancel out the birds.
  • Many scientific discoveries are done by accident. This is simply one of them: a new solar powered weapon against birds. They should install one in the big city squares instead of the desert to solve the problems with pigeons.
  • by Vinegar Joe (998110) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @04:53AM (#47710489)

    Reminds me of the "peace dove" scene in "Mars Attacks!"

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v... [youtube.com]

  • by Chas (5144) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @08:26AM (#47711219) Homepage Journal

    Seriously. People need to stop thinking of renewable energy sources as completely clean and utterly harmless.
    They aren't. And never have been.

    Once the lies and misconceptions are cleared away, THEN people can start making intelligent choices about the risks they want to take building out their power systems.

  • by Rhacman (1528815) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @11:37AM (#47712629)
    Just brush 'em with barbecue sauce and slap 'em on a bun!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

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