Solar farms = wing-toasters (part 1, solar #1)

The photo is of a dead northern rough-winged swallow.

Gloved hands extend the wings. There’s something odd.

Many of the feathers are gone. With the wings spread out, all that’s visible is the torso and charred spines where the wings should be. Looks like they were cut off.

Or burned off.

What could toast the wings off a swallow?

Heat generated at the Ivanpah solar farm near the California-Nevada border.

The bird was found inside the grounds. Photo provided by the owner of the solar farm.

An article in My Desert on 11/9/13 by K Kaufmann of The Desert Sun pulls together a large volume of the unexplored, unanswered, and unresearched issues surrounding solar farms:  Palen project raises concerns across Coachella Valley.  The article starts with a  photo and story of that charred bird.

One of a long list of immediate issues is the status of another huge project planned by the owner of Ivanpah.

The Palen project will generate 500 megawatt from two towers 750 feet tall, according the article. It will cover 3,800 acres. The solar farm is asserted to power 200,000 homes.

The Palen project is reportedly on two major migration routes for migratory birds. By the way, it is a federal crime to kill or injure a migratory bird without permission to do so.  Hold that idea. I’ll get back to it.

By the way, this will be the first is a long series of posts.

Two different dangers

Thermal plants that reflect sunlight to a collecting tower present a threat to birds because the extreme heat can damage or even burn off feathers.

Photovoltaic plants are a threat on the theory they could look like a body of water which lead migratory birds try to land on them.

The projects owner and state regulators and federal regulators do not understand the exact threat mechanism; they don’t know the extent of existing injuries and fatalities; and they don’t know the risks from further development.

Could you imagine any other industry or business in the entire US that could get away with “I don’t know” accompanied with a casual shrug of the shoulder when asked about the damage caused to protected animals? Can you tell me what industry could be so nonchalant about killing protected animals and be allowed to operate beyond the end of, oh, tomorrow afternoon? What other industry could do so and draw zero legal action by the feds and states?

Thermal danger

Here is an explanation from the article about the danger from thermal plants:

“With power towers, it’s different,” he said, referring to Ivanpah. “The solar flux has singed some birds. The heat has denatured the protein in their feathers, and they can’t fly.”

Two levels of danger there. The immediate one is burning off the feathers, which obviously is fatal. The other danger is damaging the feathers enough (denature the protein) that flight is impaired or endurance is reduced. That would be fatal, but the bird would die many or hundreds of miles away and never be linked to the thermal farm.

That’s my description.

Here’s the comment of a professional:

“If some of its flight feathers are damaged, what does that mean for the rest of the bird’s migration?” he said. “It weakens feathers. These are things people don’t study because — how can you?”

It isn’t possible to study the condition of a bird that flew through the solar flux of a thermal farm a few days or weeks after surviving the solar flux.

I hereby move we adopt the name “wing-toaster” as the unofficial name of thermal solar farms in specific, and all solar farms in general.

Photovoltaic danger

Here’s the risk from photovoltaic farms:

Water or shore birds attempting to land on the panels either could hit them with enough force to injure themselves or, stranded on dry land, be unable to take off again.

[A researcher] said that based on animal autopsies, or necropsies, the cause of death for many birds at Desert Sunlight [a photovoltaic farm] has been blunt force trauma from the animals colliding with panels mistaken for water.

Read that again: blunt force trauma.

Recall those nice pictures you’ve seen of ducks landing in a lake? So graceful. They put their feet out and glide to a stop over many feet. To take off they cruise through the water gaining enough speed to go airborne.

Hitting the top or edge of a solar panel at high landing speed would cause serious injury. Trying to take off from dirt might be too hard to do.  Probably couldn’t get enough lift to fly.

Next post: some of the known fatalities and why it’s a problem to kill or injure migratory birds.

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