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Dogs Rescue Birds from Being Burnt by Ivanpah’s Solar Panels


MK-CK046_BIGSOL_G_20140212180350It is a bit of a shame that the world’s biggest solar power plant, Ivanpah, has been facing a lot of criticism since it began operation. First the looks were not right, then pilots got blinded, now biologists say that hundreds of birds are dying because they land on the hot panels. But not to worry, dogs will help facility owners tackle the problem.

We hear all these great stories about dogs being trained to catch criminals, save lives in mountains, lead blind people, help elderly, but it is not so often that a piece of news talks about dogs helping other animals. Well, this piece is just like that.

A recently released report by a team of federal scientists from the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory (USFWS)  pointed out that at Ivanpah solar power plant, a bird goes up in flames every two minutes because it gets into contact with a solar panel.  The report also outlines that as it stands right now, there is an impressively little knowledge about bird mortality near solar facilities.

A report by the California Energy Commission, released last month, indicates that only 36% of the small dead birds, and 43% of the large ones, have been found by the expert teams around Ivanpah, before the animals decomposed. The researchers from USFWS, on the other hand, conducted a test, but instead of people, they sent specifically trained dogs to search for fallen birds. They established that the dogs could find 68% of the small birds, and 71% of the large ones. That is pretty impressive, considering the difficulties to walk around the 340,000 mirrors.

So what does this mean? Well, the dogs are clearly much better in finding the exact locations where birds are most likely to land and get killed. Having such information could be used to put signals or marks on the ‘dangerous’ panels, which will indicate to birds that mirrors are not water, and stop them from getting closer. In a long run, NRG Energy, the company operating Ivanpah, is looking into fitting cameras to monitor birds that are entering the solar flux field, but until that time comes, dogs would be the best bet.

The issue is one of these unfortunate trade-offs- do we save the birds or do we encourage clean energy to fight climate change? According to Jeff Holland, the spokesman of NRG, climate change is a much bigger concern for birds, and all other wildlife, therefore clean renewable energy is a top priority. Somehow, I have the feeling that bird lovers will disagree here, but well.

Image (c) Zuma Press

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  1. My apologies. A more careful reading shows that the story isn’t made up, and that there is apparently some representation being made that recovering all the bird carcasses can inform a plan to reduce bird mortality. All well and good, but the problem is that plan will necessarily require modifying the operation of the facility, i.e., curtailing its operation, which gets to the heart of the issue that the technology is primitive, inefficient, and does far more environmental damage than efficient technologies that are compact and comparatively harmless to wildlife. Ivanpah is a “do it because we can” project and an example of environmental narcissism stomping all over the environment.

  2. This is sheer nonsense. The FWS report had nothing to do with birds being burned by coming in contact with the mirrors. It was about birds being incinerated in mid-air when they fly inadvertently into the superheated air surrounding the tower-mounted boilers. The dogs’ job is to recover the carcasses, not to chase birds away from boilers that are more than 400 feet above ground, where dogs can’t go. Either the reporter is totally committed to defending this environmentally destructive, primitive technology, or she didn’t read any part of the FWS report and simply made this up.

  3. Mila, the wrong picture headed this article so it shows a bird on a PV panel which could never burn a bird while the story is about concentrator mirrors.


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