The $2.2 billion BrightSource Energy Plant, in the Mojave Desert, opened in February with good intentions: to harvest clean, sustainable solar power, by using 300 mirrors to reflect sunbeams onto a steam-producing water boiler. But a design flaw has turned the plant into a death trap for birds flying overhead.
According to a CBS report, as unsuspecting birds fly over this five mile stretch of mirrors, each the size of a garage door, they get scorched, often to death. The trails of smoke left in the sky by their burning feathers have led workers in the area to dub them "streamers." Federal wildlife investigators reported an average of one streamer every two minutes. BrightSource claims there are 1,000 bird deaths annually, but the Center for Biological Diversity environmental group puts its estimate as high as 28,000.
Investigators are asking BrightSource to halt its plans to build an even bigger plant, which would be located on a bird flight path between Colorado and California, heavily trafficked by golden eagles, peregrine falcons, and other protected species. If built, it’s estimated it will be four times as deadly to birds as the current plant, located in Ivanpah, California, near the California-Nevada border. Authorities from the Audobon Society want BrightSource to track a year’s worth of bird deaths from the existing plant before it goes forward with plans for a new plant. BrightSource will decide in the coming months whether to go through with the proposal.
BrightSource, for its part, is investigating possible design solutions for curbing the bird deaths—steering birds away from the plant with sounds or lights, for example. It's also offering $1.8 million to compensate for all the bird deaths anticipated, and are considering donating this to an agency that spays and neuters cats, which are responsible for 1.4 billion bird deaths a year. It's hoping this agency's efforts would somehow balance out the casualties from the plant, but wildlife activists say this wouldn’t help the threatened bird population of the Mojave desert.
Image via Natural England/Flickr