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Birds die …

September 1st, 2014 · 3 Comments

Perhaps it is a bit of ‘man bites dog’ or the efforts of anti-clean energy interest groups or …, butbuzzing around world is news that the (relatively) new Ivanpah concentrating solar power (CSP) electricity generation plant is killing birds.  While Brightsource’s 300,000 mirrors might be killing up to 28,000 birds per year, this extrapolation is based on a number of uncertain assumptions.

In any event, as per the above, time to put things in context.  While renewable energy plant designs should take into account risks to wildlife — and take reasonable measures to reduce those risks — those screaming about the Ivanpah facility aren’t talking too much about America’s kitty kats reign of terror on wildlife nor do they speak much about how pollution from coal plants doesn’t only hurt human health and endanger the climate, but also hurts animal health and damages habitats.

Yes, those 300,000 mirrors are — without question — killing birds.  Brightsource has given $1.6 million in recognition — in payment — for that damage and proposes using that money for a spading program to reduce the numbers of cats and, therefore, the number of birds killed by those cats. How many 100,000s of bird deaths will be avoided with that money?

And, the Ivanpah electricity — now that the plant is built and running — is pretty close to pollution free.  No particulate emissions to hurt bird (and human) health. No greenhouse gas emissions to worsen climate change and worsen risks to birds (and humans).

Lets be clear — there is no such thing as a perfect energy source nor a perfectly pollution-free energy system.  However, we need to place things in context — whether it be bird deaths or carbon emissions, Brightsource’s CSP system should be improved but it is already much better than the existing incumbents.

Those attacking Brightsource are, in many cases, the ones who shout the loudest about wildlife impacts from wind power.  As to that, perhaps we should expect the Audobon Society to soon release something on solar power similar to Audobon’s wind power position?

Audubon strongly supports wind power and recognizes that it will not be without some impact; however, harmful effects to birds and other wildlife can be avoided or significantly reducedEvery megawatt-hour produced by wind energy avoids an average of 1,220 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. If the United States obtains 20 percent of its electricity from wind power by 2020, it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 71 million cars off the road or planting 104 million acres of trees. Expanding wind power instead of fossil fuels also avoids the wildlife and human health impacts of oil and gas drilling, coal mining, and burning fossil fuels.

Note:  For context, see Joe Romm’s 2011 No wonder they’re angry: 13.7 million birds are dying every day in the U.S.


Writing this was sparked by a Teahadist comment to me over the weekend that “not only does it cost too much, but solar power kills so many birds … yet another reason we shouldn’t build solar.

To provide a perspective.

1. To supply 100% of US electricity supply — eliminating not just coal but all nuclear, wind, rooftop solar, natural gas, hydroelectric, geothermal, biomass, etc — would require roughly 4,100 similarly sized CSP plants.  (And, by the way, nearly eliminate GHG emissions from US electricity supply. … Note … this is a highly theoretical construct that doesn’t comport with real opportunities.)

2.  The 28,000 number is almost certainly too high (see link above).  Even if it is 10,000 (which is still likely to be high), that works out to 4.1 million birds a year *to supply 100% or the US energy needs.

3.  Put another way, that represents 0.4% of the number killed by windows, perhaps .1% of the numbers killed by cats, and less than half the number killed by burning coal.

As per above, the system can/should be improved … but let’s look at it within a context.

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Tags: Energy · environmental

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