Federal wildlife investigators are urging California officials to halt BrightSource Energy's permit to build a bigger solar thermal power plant. They say that birds are igniting in mid-air when they fly through the current Ivanpah plant's sun rays, according to an Associated Press report.
Estimates of the number of bird deaths have varied. The AP reported that environmentalist group Center for Biological Diversity says 28,000. BrightSource released a statement on Aug. 19 that said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Law Enforcement was asked to examine the causes of bird mortality at three solar energy facilities in California, including the Ivanpah project. The OLE biologists found that “significant avian mortality is caused by the intense solar flux that produces feather singeing.” Ivanpah did indeed report 321 avian fatalities between January and June 2014, of which 133 were related to solar flux.
The statement went on to say that "when considering the impact our technology has on birds passing through the concentrated sunlight, or solar flux, it is important to keep in mind the leading man-made causes" of bird deaths:
- An estimated 1.4-3.7 billion birds are killed each year by cats;
- As many as 980 million birds crash into buildings annually;
- 174 million birds die from power lines every year;
- Up to 340 million birds perish from vehicles/roads;
- Approximately 6.8 million birds die flying into communications towers;
- As many as one million die annually in oil and gas fluid waste pits; and
- Up to 330,000 die each year from wind turbines
This issue has put environmentalists and animal rights activists in "rare opposition, because birds are being cooked alive when they fly through the concentrated rays," a blog from Esquire said.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials say they want a death toll for a full year of operation, the AP reported.