Yet more controversy over solar power
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has published a report concerning the effect on birds of three solar facilities in Southern California. https://www.kcet.org/news/rewire/Avian-mortality%20Report%20FINALclean.pdf. Over the course of a two-year investigation, the Service found that the three facilities had killed 233 birds from 71 different species.
The causes of death:
1. Exposures to temperatures of over 800 degrees Fahrenheit to birds flying overhead of the facilities (in one case, investigators observed a “falcon-type bird with a plume of smoke arising from the tail…”).
2. For many birds not killed by the heat, the effect of the heat on their wings causes the wings to become inoperable; when that happens and the birds crash to the ground, many are killed or injured and thus made vulnerable to predators.
3. For those birds not killed or badly injured, many nonetheless have their wings singed and cannot get away from predators.
The investigators also observed hundreds of butterfly carcasses from this species attracted to the solar structure’s reflections and crashing into them.
The report makes a series of recommendations to attempt to remedy the bird mortality problem. However, many of these recommendations appear expensive to institute (installation of video cameras to record birds entering and leaving the area; using dogs to detect hidden injured birds) or inconsistent with operating efficiency (suspend operation during peak migration times), raising the issue of whether solar power form these facilities would really be providing low-cost energy were these recommendations instituted.
The report thus raises a broader issue: is the generation of solar power, at least at these mega-facilities, really less costly and environmentally safer than traditional coal- and oil-generated power?