California opens world's largest solar power farm - as evidence emerges that it leaves birds who fly over 'scorched'

State officials decide benefit of green energy for 140,000 homes outweighs 'significant impacts on environment'

Environmentalists in California face a difficult dilemma after it emerged that a brand new solar power plant could actually be scorching to death some birds that fly over it.

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System spans 5 square miles (13 square kilometres) of the Mojave Desert near the border with Nevada, and opened on Thursday despite strong objections from wildlife activists.

Although it has the potential to provide green energy to 140,000 homes, the Ivanpah project has also been criticised for disrupting a thriving habitat for tortoises, coyotes, kit foxes and bobcats.

While measures have been taken to protect these animals – including a “tortoise fence” around the perimeter of the plant – evidence has now come to light which suggests a far more worrying hazard produced by the project’s extreme heat.

The system produces power by reflecting line from more than 300,000 giant mirrors onto three water towers. The sunlight hitting the towers can create temperatures of up to 1,000F (530C), producing steam which then drives generator turbines.

Yet this process also creates an extremely hot “thermal flux” around the tower, and biologists producing compliance reports for developer BrightSource Energy said that at least two dead birds found on the site in November last year were likely killed by “scorching”.

They provided images which appeared to show bird carcasses with “singed feathers”, and while the species involved were blackbirds and warblers, experts have reported sightings of red-tailed hawks and golden eagles above the site in the past. Other birds are believed to have died after colliding with mirrors.

Around 300,000 mirrors at the plant are used to direct sunlight onto three boiler towers Around 300,000 mirrors at the plant are used to direct sunlight onto three boiler towers The state government of California has pledged to provide one third of all energy through sustainable sources by 2020, meaning it is increasingly likely to accept environmental trade-offs to give projects like Ivanpah the green light.

The California Energy Commission has concluded that while the solar plant would impose “significant impacts on the environment ... the benefits the project would provide override those impacts.”

“We're trying to figure out how big the problem is and what we can do to minimize bird mortalities,” said Eric Davis, assistant regional director for migratory birds at the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Sacramento office. He told the Wall Street Journal: “When you have new technologies, you don't know what the impacts are going to be.”

An environmentalist group, the Western Watersheds Project, is currently pursuing a lawsuit against the federal agencies that reviewed the Ivanpah project. Its California director, Michael J Connor, said alternatives to the site were not considered and serious environmental impacts, including fragmenting the tortoise population, were ignored.

Despite those concerns, the opening of Ivanpah has been hailed by the Solar Energy Industries Association as “a dawn of a new era in power generation in the United States”.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Swiss Banking and Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Can you speak German,...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - 6 month FTC - Central London

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An exciting opportunity f...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before