Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version Share this


Shocking toll from solar facility pales, however, compared to estimated 100,000 bird deaths from wind turbines in CA

By Miriam Raftery

November 25, 2013 (California) – Desert solar projects have been touted as environmentally friendly.  But now disturbing evidence has emerged that these projects are incinerating birds flying overhead.Two months ago,  34 birds were found dead or injured at Ivanpah Solar (photo, left, by Tom Budlong) owned by BrightSource Energy in  San Bernardino County, California. Almost half had singed feathers and some had nothing left but spines where feathers melted from  reflected beams of sunlight, according to a report  in The Desert Sun.

The toll was even worse in October, when 52 dead birds were found at the site, 17 with scorched feathers (see photo, below right)  Ivanpah, still in testing phase, is the world's largest solar facility -- but it's not the only one frying birds. Another 19 birds were found dead at another project, Desert Sunlight, also in California.  More such facilities are planned, incdluing Palen’s proposed project in the Coachella Valley that would be located near two wildlife refuges where migrating birds stop in the Pacific Flyway.

Unlike projects that rely solely on solar panels, these facilities utilize towers that concentrate solar power using thousands of reflecting mirrors. The technology holds promise to produce vast amounts of electricity – but apparently at a tragic cost to birds.

The recent rash of bird deaths at Ivanpah included numerous yellow-rumped warblers, a species rarely seen in the region.  A KCET environmental journalist has raised a disturbing question: Could the mirrored surfaces, which resemble water from the air, actually be attracting birds? If so, the toll could climb much higher.  The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service has reported that large numbers of insects were attracted to the solar flux – insects that warblers feed upon.

Ivanpah has thus far only been online for testing.  It is slated to go online fulltime by year’s end – which is likely to mean an even worse toll on wildlife. 

Tom  Budlong was passing by the Ivanpah facility on November 18 when it was being tested. This  shot shows the solar receiver in operation and  the halo of light/energy surrounding the receiver along with cone of light/energy rising from the heliostats to the receiver. View more photos:  Ivanpah Solar Tower in Operation.

The toll on birds, particularly species protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, is particularly troubling when combined with the fact that thousands of birds are killed by wind turbines throughout the country. Now, evidence has emerged that California’ wind projects are the deadliest in the nation among states that provided data (Texas, which has the most wind turbines, notably did not).

Moreover, the newest turbine designs which  are replacing older lattice styles appear even worse, with bird mortalities higher the taller the turbines become.   

California's newest wind turbines may be killing more than 100,000 birds a year, according to a peer-reviewed study to be published in December—and our state’sa wind turbines kill more wildlife per megawatt than identical turbines in other parts of the country.

These findings together raise a disturbing question: Can energy projects that decimate wildlife really be considered green?

Error message

Support community news in the public interest! As nonprofit news, we rely on donations from the public to fund our reporting -- not special interests. Please donate to sustain East County Magazine's local reporting and/or wildfire alerts at to help us keep people safe and informed across our region.


I would go further, Hiker

I would go further, Hiker Gal: More than a tragedy, it's nothing less than a moral outrage.