Bright Lights, Dim Idea

The Wall Street Journal has a devastating article today about the Ivanpah solar power project in the eastern Mojave desert of California not far from Las Vegas.  The headline tells the story crisply (so to speak): “The $2.2 Billion Bird-Scorching Solar Project.”

A giant solar-power project officially opening this week in the California desert is the first of its kind, and may be among the last, in part because of growing evidence that the technology it uses is killing birds. . .

The $2.2 billion solar farm, which spans over five square miles of federal land southwest of Las Vegas, includes three towers as tall as 40-story buildings. Nearly 350,000 mirrors, each the size of a garage door, reflect sunlight onto boilers atop the towers, creating steam that drives power generators. . .

Experts have estimated that electricity from giant solar projects will cost at least twice as much as electricity from conventional sources. But neither the utilities that have contracted to buy the power nor state regulators have disclosed what the price will be, only that it will be passed on to electricity customers.

Oh goody: higher-priced electricity for the economically depressed state that already has some of the highest electricity rates in the nation.  I guess it makes ironic sense one of the companies behind it is called BrightSource Energy.  But wait, there’s more!

Regulators said they anticipated that some birds would be killed once the Ivanpah plant started operating, but that they didn’t expect so many to die during the plant’s construction and testing. The dead birds included a peregrine falcon, a grebe, two hawks, four nighthawks and a variety of warblers and sparrows. State and federal regulators are overseeing a two-year study of the facility’s effects on birds.

Some of the birds have been found with their wings burned up.  Here’s an idea: put a ring of giant wind turbines around the solar farm, and the birds can be whacked on the head instead of fried to a crisp.

If you want to get an idea of how egregious this project is, take in this photo I took of the three towers of the Ivanpah plant out of my airplane window—probably 50 miles or more away—back in December on a flight into Los Angeles.  Somewhere I have some video I shot of Ivanpah outside my car window from I-15 last year that really shows the immensity of this monstrosity.  If I can find it, I’ll update this later.


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