Microwaves of the Desert; Cuisinarts of the Sky

Conservatives used to like to joke that spotted owls taste great slow roasted over a campfire, but who knew that environmentalists would eventually have to own this joke?

Los Angeles PBS station KCET reports:

A report just made public by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service documents a disturbing amount of bird injuries at three large California desert solar power plants, and says that there are no easy fixes to the issue.

The report, compiled by the USFWS’s National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory, describes the results of examinations of 233 carcasses of birds found at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) south of Las Vegas, the Desert Sunlight facility near Joshua Tree National Park, and the Genesis Solar project west of Blythe in Riverside County.

The occasionally gruesome report indicates that injuries from concentrated solar flux and from impact with mirrors or photovoltaic panels constitute the two largest solar facility threats to wild birds, and suggests that the limited scope of carcass surveys at solar projects may be obscuring the true magnitude of bird mortalities they cause.

Here’s just a couple of illuminating (so to speak) excerpts of the actual report:

OLE [USFWS Office of Law Enforcement staff] observed large numbers of insect carcasses throughout the Ivanpah site during their visit. In some places there were hundreds upon hundreds of butterflies (including monarchs, Danaus plexippus) and dragonfly carcasses. Some showed singeing, and many appeared to have just fallen from the sky. Careful observation with binoculars showed the insects were active in the bright area around the boiler at the top of the tower. It was deduced that the solar flux creates such a bright light that it is brighter than the surrounding daylight. Insects were attracted to the light and could be seen actively flying the height of the tower. Birds were also observed feeding on the insects. At times birds flew into the solar flux and ignited. . .

Ivanpah employees and OLE staff noticed that close to the periphery of the tower and within the reflected solar field area, streams of smoke rise when an object crosses the solar flux fields aimed at the tower. Ivanpah employees used the term “streamers” to characterize this occurrence.

When OLE staff visited the Ivanpah Solar plant, we observed many streamer events. It is claimed that these events represent the combustion of loose debris, or insects. Although some of the events are likely that, there were instances in which the amount of smoke produced by the ignition could only be explained by a larger flammable biomass such as a bird. Indeed OLE staff observed birds entering the solar flux and igniting, consequently becoming a streamer.

OLE staff observed an average of one streamer event every two minutes.

Somehow this all escaped the Environmental Impact Review of the project before it was built?

Meanwhile, the Daily Mail reports on the latest victim of wind power in the UK: a rare bird last sighted on the Isle 22 years ago:

There had been only eight recorded sightings of the white-throated needletail in the UK since 1846. So when one popped up again on British shores this week, twitchers were understandably excited.

A group of 40 enthusiasts dashed to the Hebrides to catch a glimpse of the brown, black and blue bird, which breeds in Asia and winters in Australasia.

But instead of being treated to a wildlife spectacle they were left with a horror show when it flew into a wind turbine and was killed.

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