Solar Energy Has a PR Problem: Massive Teepees of Doom are Killing Birds

Fried-Chicken-Set2Environmentalists had much to celebrate when the Ivanpah Energy Power Facility in California flipped its switch earlier this year and began powering 140,000 homes with clean energy.

Unfortunately, their joy translated into gloom for animal rights activists: somewhere between a thousand and 28,000 birds have since been fried to death in what’s been called “massive teepees of doom.”

Right now you’re probably thinking two things: first, tell me more; and secondly, that’s a pretty big range of alleged aviancide… is this truly a PR crisis for solar energy?

Credit goes to Esquire’s Michael Howard for an evocative piece describing how BrightSoure’s $2.2 billion plant is cooking birds alive when they fly through concentrated rays of sunshine:

BrightSource’s Ivanpah Energy Plant is a massive solar thermal plant that covers 3,500 acres with 173,500 heliostats, each of which contains 163 square feet of mirrors. These thousands of giant mirrors direct sunrays to one of three 459-foot power towers. The heated towers then create steam, which generates energy-producing turbines.

Ivanpah also creates three massive teepees of doom that fry the life out of any hapless wildlife wandering through the wrong path. The concentrated sunrays directed at the towers are hot enough to set birds afire the instant they cross the blaze barrier.

He points out that “only time will tell how truly deadly such a gigantic solar thermal design can be…” That and another, larger BrightSource plant scheduled to be completed in 2016 amidst a major commuting zone for birds between the Colorado River and the Salton Sea.

Animal rights activists are raising the alarm, and clean energy enthusiasts are getting spooked. One anonymous “solar energy expert” told Esquire,

“Frankly, I don’t like these giant solar thermal plants simply because stuff like this happens with birds, and misinformed people use it to discredit everything solar with one lump of ignorance.”

Howard goes on to note how frustrating this potential “public relations nightmare” would be for unrelated—and smaller-scaled—solar energy sources and makes another point this PRNewswer can get behind: “…such damage is minor in comparison to the environmental, economical, political, and even health problems caused by widespread reliance on big oil.”

His solution is for the renewable energy world to stick to solar panel and downscaled solar thermal plants, but one might offer an alternative to BrightSource—if you’re going to build, build near airports so we don’t have another bird strike bringing down commercial airlines like US Airways Flight 1549. Oh wait, turns out they blind pilots and could possibly flip airplanes.