This type of solar energy plant differs from the normal solar panels that convert the sun's energy directly into electrical energy by light-sensitive semiconductors to be used immediately or stored in large batteries.
The solar energy plant that's accused of killing too many birds magnifies the sun's heat with many mirrors and focuses the intensified heat beams onto water tanks to create steam for turbine-driven electric energy generators. Problem is, the tanks are on raised towers, called "power towers," and the intensified heat beams are focused upwards.
Evidently, it's more effective and efficient at producing massive energy sources for larger populations than localized solar panels. The largest tower power solar plant, a $2.2 billion plant, is at Ivanpah Dry Lake near the California-Nevada border, near the more famously known Death Valley, which is where the highest temperature in the USA was recorded at 134 degrees Fahrenheit.
The environmental impact is less, except for birds flying through
You'd think that a source of electricity that is less harmful to humans and the immediate ecology than other sources of electrical energy would be beyond reproach. Coal plants spew toxic mercury residue into the air, and environmentally damaging strip mining is required to get the necessary coal.
Natural gas demands for steam-driven turbine electrical power generation justifies fracking, which is proving to be a huge waste of water and creating ecological pollution hazardous to farm animals and humans.
The dangers of nuclear power are proving to be worse than ever anticipated. They and the radioactive spent fuel rod storage are actually a menace to all life now and more so for the future.
But the desolate desert area where the Ivanpah solar power towers are located is an area that has many birds passing through. The three boiler tank power towers at the Ivanpah station are around 40 stories high. That's 400 feet up, and those intensely hot sun beams reflected by over 300,000 mirrors the size of garage doors are channeled upward toward the tank towers.
They create enough steam to generate electricity for over 140,000 homes in an area that uses refrigerated or swamp cooler air conditioning throughout most days out of nine months. BrightSource Energy, the company that developed the plant and runs it, also has financial backing from Google and NRG Solar of Carlsbad.
BrightSource estimates the burnt bird deaths at 1,000 annually, while the Center for Biological Diversity comes up with an annual figure of 28,000 deaths. BrightSource Energy and its backers claim they'd like some sort of technology devised to steer many of the birds away. They may possibly back that research. It's generally believed that there is none now.
Both estimates are based on observations of streamers, burning birds leaving trails of smoke in the solar flux, and carcasses with wing feathers too singed for flying in the immediate area since the Iavnaph plant went into operation February 2014 to the time of this writing, August 2014.
With that variance in the amount of dead birds and with the actual count possibly falling somewhere in between, the Audubon Society, U.S. Fish and Wild Life and others are urging a full year's accurate counting before allowing BrightSource to go on with future plans for a bigger solar energy plant with even higher towers, at 750 feet.
Plans are on the California Energy Commission's table now for the new plant to be constructed and operated between the California-Arizona border and Joshua Tree National Park.
This site is in the flight path of migratory birds between the Colorado River and the Salton Sea, the largest lake in California. The path between the two points where the new, larger proposed plant is awaiting approval from the California Energy Commission has even more avian (bird) traffic of several various species.
Hopefully this issue gets sorted out with a win-win solution. So far, solar towers appear to offer the most cost-efficient and safe alternative for supplying energy to a struggling power grid.
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