How the World's Largest Solar Plant Wants To Fix Its Fried Bird Problem

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System has a problem. The myriad mirrors that reflect the sun's searing rays onto towers that generate electricity also create a death ray that fries anything in its path, namely poor innocent birds flying through the desert. But don't worry. They're working on it.

Following a rather alarming Associated Press report about the fried bird problem, I reached out to BrightSource Energy, the company that operates the Ivanpah solar plant, to find out exactly how they were going to stop killing so many birds. According to the AP, the plant's death ray zaps one bird every two seconds. The AP also reports that BrightSource is spending $1.8 on a mitigation fund that could be used to spay and neuter cats. Because maybe fewer cats mean fewer cat-related bird deaths which somehow offsets the solar death ray bird deaths? Whatever.


They have other (read: better) ideas, too! NRG Energy, the majority owner of the Ivanpah project, is working with local wildlife organizations and investigating a number of avian deterrent efforts, including the same kinds of systems that airports use to keep birds away. Some of the options under consideration include anti-perching devices, waste and water containment systems to keep birds from looking for food near by, replacing conventional lighting with anti-bird LEDs, and sonic deterrent methods. The company's communications director Jeff Holland explained the progress of these efforts in an email:

As to the efforts currently underway, the waste and water containment is actively being done daily and the heliostat repositioning is complete. The sonic deterrent has been purchased and is in the process of being tested on site. The lighting on the towers are now being turned off at night and bids to replace the current ground level lighting with LED were returned this week and will be purchased and installed.

To its credit, NRG appears to be taking the wildlife problem pretty seriously. Holland told me that his company has spend "$25 million for our desert tortoise program, and in developing a high quality, scientifically valid, and robust avian plan." And let's not forget that solar energy is a very good thing and this facility is producing quite a lot of it. Bummer about the dead birds, though.


Image via Getty

Solar Power Company Wants to Make Up For Frying Birds By Neutering Cats

A few months ago, Sploid reported on an unsettling consequence of running the world's largest solar plant. The 350,000 mirrors bounce sunlight back towards the atmosphere with such intensity that it basically creates a giant death ray. The poor little birds that pass by don't stand a chance—they get scorched in midair.

This is not a small problem. The Associated Press' sources now say that there's an average of one so-called "streamer" every two minutes at the $2.2 billion Ivanpah Dry Lake facility. (They're called streamers due to the trail of smoke the burned birds produce as their carcasses fall to the Earth.) The problem is bad enough that federal wildlife investigators want to stop the plant's owner, BrightSource Energy, from opening an even larger solar farm directly in the flight path of over 100 species of birds, including golden eagles and peregrine falcons. That plant would be four times as dangerous to birds as Ivanpah.


But don't worry. BrightSource Energy has a solution. One of the company's executives told the AP that BrightSource will cough up $1.8 million in compensation for the anticipated bird deaths at the new plant. This money, he says, could be used to spay and neuter cats—which kill billions of birds every year.

The idea creates more questions than it answers. How exactly will spaying and neutering keep the cats from killing birds—aside from the simple fact that the cats would reproduce less? Wouldn't the right solution be to figure out a way to steer the gigantic death ray death away from the poor innocent birds? The AP reports that "opponents say that would do nothing to help the desert birds at the proposed site." And those opponents sound right!


We've reached out to BrightSource for more information on its plan to save the birds, and their silly idea to spay and neuter cats. We'll update this post when we hear back. [Sploid, AP]