WSJ: World's largest solar plant is open, but it's killing birds

The new Ivanpah solar power project in the California desert - dedicated today by Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz - is the first of its kind, and it may be among the last, because the heat it generates is so intense that it appears to be killing birds.

The owners of the project - NRG Energy (NRG), Google, and BrightSource Energy - call the "tower power" plant a major feat of engineering that can light up 140K homes per year, but the heat created by the plant's thousands of special mirrors seems to be scorching birds that fly over the area.

The companies say it's too early to draw definitive conclusions.

Utilities owned by PG&E (PCG) and Edison International (EIX) have agreed to buy electricity generated from Ivanpah under 25-year contracts.

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Comments (21)
  • Be Here Now
    , contributor
    Comments (6320) | Send Message
    Unintended consequences?
    13 Feb 2014, 07:28 PM Reply Like
  • westerner
    , contributor
    Comments (226) | Send Message
    This could not have been any surprise to the engineers of this project before they ever turned over the first shovel full of dirt. Just hoping to get away with it with "the greater need" argument and probably will.
    13 Feb 2014, 07:33 PM Reply Like
  • Chickenpookie
    , contributor
    Comments (141) | Send Message
    Kentucky Fried Pigeon is finger-lickin' good!
    13 Feb 2014, 07:34 PM Reply Like
  • maudie
    , contributor
    Comments (489) | Send Message
    If Google is involved, it must be in the best interest of the birds and all of nature. "Continue", said Larry Page from atop a pile of bird carcasses, "for we are naturists. We know best."
    13 Feb 2014, 07:40 PM Reply Like
  • mbender
    , contributor
    Comments (201) | Send Message
    "As long as it's not downright Evil, we will do it. That's where we draw the line."
    14 Feb 2014, 03:36 PM Reply Like
  • longtrade
    , contributor
    Comments (70) | Send Message
    Those birds and many billions of their cousins would be killed by global warming if we don't find a way to power our civilization without fossil fuels. Perhaps solar will be safer for wildlife if it is distributed rather than concentrated. Every energy source will have some problems.... except for conservation.


    Conservation is the cheapest and most environmentally friendly source of "new" energy.
    13 Feb 2014, 07:41 PM Reply Like
  • 13302632
    , contributor
    Comments (1777) | Send Message
    Yes, if only we all lived like our native American ancestors in harmony with nature and let natural events like droughts kill off the people maintaining the natural balance, and then eventually the human race could be wiped out by a giant asteroid.


    Does anyone understand the pace of technological change continues to acclerate. The context of these issues will radically change in the next 50 years. Human beings as we know them today may no longer exist within a 100 years as we are self-evolving both with DNA manipulation and cybernetic modifications. Artificial intelligences will probably supercede us within 50 years anyway. There is a good chance we will be able to extract CO2 out of the atmosphere with new technology. All the doomsayers remind me of the y2k scare.
    14 Feb 2014, 05:45 AM Reply Like
  • Ed Lee
    , contributor
    Comments (162) | Send Message
    Many people with no knowledge of the situation continue to minimize the Y2K situation. The reason that nothing bad happened on January 1, 2000 is that between July of 1998 and December of 1999, American businesses spent $80 billion getting ready for it. Businesses in the rest of the world spent even more. Please stop using Y2K as an example of a bogus "scare". It was a real threat. We worked our butts off to avoid it.
    On the solar electricity front, we are already making significant advances. The press, for the most part, do their best to ignore the advances.
    14 Feb 2014, 08:46 AM Reply Like
  • 13302632
    , contributor
    Comments (1777) | Send Message
    I would question the 80 billion, but yes you make my point, beneficial technology created a problem by its own nature, and with technology we were able to solve the problem, but many doubted that we could really solve it. The fact people doubted we could solve the problem was my point not the actual problem. I believe the nature of the exponential advance in technology means that we have time to solve all the problems that it creates.


    Yes, solar power is making advances. It is hard to tell exactly how much, because it is subsidized so much. Until the subsidies are removed and it competes in the market place against other energy sources (that are also unsubsidized with appropriate real (pollutive) costs attached) we won't know where we stand with it. I read every day about advances on water splitting for hydrogen fuel cells and potential methods of improving solar cells efficiency while lower cost. I read such sites as sciencedaily daily. I don't doubt we will get there eventually, but trying to circumvent true free market pressures in the energy field is counterproductive to the most effective cost curve to improve the energy mix. Prematurely installing unready technologies waste resources better spent on research to get them truly competitive and ready.


    We would be doing better in the battle for the climate to invest more in clean coal and export the technology to China, because China continues to build coal power plants at a rapid pace. Our country will affect world greenhouse gas emissions less and less except through improvements in technology that can be exported. That is because the developing world will continue to increase their percentage of emissions. Net carbon improvement would probably be much better if we had taken all the extra subsidized solar research and put it towards clean coal...just speaking pragmatically as an engineer looking at real world trade offs. Regardless, I'm an optimist and believe our technology will keep us net positive until the technological singularity and then who knows what will happen.
    15 Feb 2014, 09:00 AM Reply Like
  • Ed Lee
    , contributor
    Comments (162) | Send Message
    The $80 billion figure is accurate. I was in the thick of it, attending CETS (Compaq Enterprise Technical Symposium) meetings, and subscribing to Computerworld, Network World, and the ISA publication InTech. I was combing through thousands of lines of C code in a cement manufacturing plant. That last year and a half was a mad dash by industries worldwide to find and fix as many 2-digit-year problems as possible, prompted mainly by potential legal liabilities if systems malfunctioned.


    I agree that exporting clean energy technology to China and others is a good idea, especially since we have reduced our greenhouse gas emissions to 1991 levels, without signing the Kyoto protocol (which would have mandated a reduction to 1990 levels).


    I have been doing a lot of reading recently on CSP (concentrating solar power), and I'm very impressed with both the tower and parabolic trough concentrator systems, especially when they are used with thermal storage. Do you know of any sources of information about government subsidies of CSP? So far, I've only read about subsidies for photovoltaic.
    15 Feb 2014, 04:59 PM Reply Like
  • Yokyok
    , contributor
    Comments (327) | Send Message
    Count on the FoxNewsPaper (WSJ) to put a negative spin on any thing solar.
    13 Feb 2014, 07:42 PM Reply Like
  • GaltMachine
    , contributor
    Comments (2085) | Send Message
    What's positive about frying innocent birds?
    13 Feb 2014, 10:21 PM Reply Like
  • userwcSX
    , contributor
    Comments (67) | Send Message
    It's touching you care so much about birds. I do, too. But given that the country needs energy and the choices are NG, thermal coal, nuclear, or renewable it's obvious that all of them have drawbacks. Given the area, nuclear is clearly out because of a lack of cooling capacity and NG would be unlikely because of lack of pipeline infrastructure. Coal releases large amounts of heavy metal pollutants and disperses them widely which is also very detrimental to avian populations. The mining process is also really destructive vs. other non-renewable sources. Tough call. I guess it's really up to the private entities putting their capital at risk on the project.
    13 Feb 2014, 11:24 PM Reply Like
  • stocknerd
    , contributor
    Comments (1503) | Send Message
    Birds? Bald Eagles? Not good. Starling? No problem. Pigeons? Good. How many killed? Thousands? Hundreds? A whole bunch? More birds are killed by automobiles I bet.
    13 Feb 2014, 07:44 PM Reply Like
  • Eriksbullish
    , contributor
    Comments (16) | Send Message
    I don't know about automobiles, but definitely house windows.
    14 Feb 2014, 01:27 AM Reply Like
  • Messa
    , contributor
    Comments (19) | Send Message
    In an unrelated note. Kentucky Fried Chicken has decided to cancel their "catapult home delivery" pilot program.
    13 Feb 2014, 08:18 PM Reply Like
  • David Karbulka
    , contributor
    Comments (2) | Send Message
    Agreed. Climate change will have a bigger impact on all animal species than this. Hopefully the smart ones will find a better route.
    13 Feb 2014, 08:51 PM Reply Like
  • wrabelf
    , contributor
    Comments (3) | Send Message
    Not to mention it contributes to global warming
    13 Feb 2014, 08:57 PM Reply Like
  • hayrow
    , contributor
    Comments (4) | Send Message
    If this were a project in any way associated with fossil fuel, the current EPA would have issues an immediate injunction against the operators. But since it is "green" energy, they look the other way. Such hypocrites!
    13 Feb 2014, 09:20 PM Reply Like
  • Ed Lee
    , contributor
    Comments (162) | Send Message
    Environmentalists can't have their cake and eat it, too. They want sources of electricity that involve absolutely no adverse consequences. Solar power obviously involves trade-offs, just like any other commercial venture. But, more important than the bird problem, is that the Ivanpah facility was built with no thermal storage, so it stops generating shortly after sunset. On the other hand, the Nevada Solar One facility (about 50 miles northeast of Ivanpah) does have thermal storage, which enables it to generate electricity for as much as 6 hours after sunset. Additionally, it uses parabolic trough concentrators as opposed to the tower system at Ivanpah. Nevada Solar One has been in operation since 2007, and there hasn't been any mention of adverse affects on wildlife. Also, the first commercial scale solar thermal plant with storage, the Gemasolar plant in Spain (a tower facility like Ivanpah), recently marked its second anniversary by delivering electricity 24/7 for 36 consecutive days. Building and operating both photovoltaic and solar concentrating facilities is the only way we will find out if solar electrical generation is economically viable.
    13 Feb 2014, 11:19 PM Reply Like
  • 16745572
    , contributor
    Comments (3) | Send Message
    Maybe they should build a cage around the installation so the birds are kept from harms way.
    14 Feb 2014, 09:41 AM Reply Like
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