February 23, 2015
Solar Farm Sets 130 Birds On Fire Midair: Nearly 30,000 Birds Scorched Each Year By Solar Energy Project

Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project, a solar power farm in Nevada, is being blamed for setting nearly 130 birds on fire midair. The test project, partially owned by search engine giant Google, is slated to go live in March. However, some are wondering if large scale solar power farms are safe for our avian friends. A report last year found that nearly 30,000 birds flying over California near the world's largest solar plant, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, were scorched to death. Could Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project cause a similar fate for birds in Nevada?

The KCET Rewire reports that over 100 birds were injured during a Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project test. On January 14, the energy facility was testing a 110-megawatt solar project near Tonopah, Nevada, when biologists witnessed approximately 130 birds enter the concentrated energy zone and catch fire. The report comes from Rudy Evenson, Deputy Chief of Communications for Nevada Bureau of Land Management in Reno.

Evenson notes that the birds were likely attracted to the site by the glow of the project's central tower. Despite the charring deaths of the birds, the project owners claim the issue has been fixed and that the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project will still be slated to open in March. Biologists working on the project say that on the test that resulted in the deaths of the 130 birds, one-third of the facilities solar panels were focused on sunlight at a point 1,200 feet above the ground. When the test began, biologists began to notice what they call streamers, which are plumes of smoke streaking across the sky and igniting. These "streamers" are "trails of smoke and water vapor caused by birds entering the field of concentrated solar energy (a.k.a. "solar flux") and igniting."

According to the Daily Mail, the solar energy project did a second test the following day and reduced the number of solar panels aimed at the 1,200 feet focal point. Biologists noted that the adjustments ended the "streamers" and injuries to the birds. SolarReserve CEO Kevin Smith, says that the issue has been mitigated and that the solar energy project will no longer pose a threat to birds in the area.

"We had some avian incidents during the week of January 11, in which there were a number of incidents, estimated at under 150 avian safety issues. As a result, we stopped testing until we successfully developed mitigation procedures to address the identified avian safety issues."
Though the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project has claimed the issue has been resolved at their solar farm, another large solar plant in California has also had reported avian deaths from the concentrated solar energy.
"A report last year found that tens of thousands of birds flying over California are being scorched to death each year by powerful sun beams from the world's largest solar plant – the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System."
What do you think solar farms should do to ensure that birds are not killed by the highly concentrated energy? Is testing, such as that done by biologists following the bird deaths, enough?

[Image Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images]