Like everyone else who has heard the story this week, we were pretty alarmed to hear accounts of thousands of birds bursting into flames above a new-technology solar facility at Ivanpah Valley in the Mojave Desert and we were grateful to have Renewable Energy Director Garry George front and center in the media to give Audubon’s view. But the truth is that these reports aren’t new.
After first hearing these accounts months ago, Audubon California pulled together several other conservation organizations to get answers from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service about what the federal government was going to do about it. If the accounts were true, the deaths of birds would appear to be a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Since then, Service investigators have been working extensively with NRG, the operators of the facility, to determine the extent of the problem and come up with solutions to avoid bird mortality. In fact, the reports that we’re hearing now are largely due to the pressure Audubon California and the other groups put on the Service and operator to look more closely at the issue.
Audubon California meets regularly with NRG to help them figure out solutions to the problem. Despite the headlines, we still don’t know how many birds are dying there, and whether the deaths are attributable to the technology itself or to the location of the facility.
Understanding the nature of the problem is important because California regulators are looking at another permit application to use the same solar technology in Riverside County near the Colorado River, proximate to a much more important migratory pathway for birds. Audubon California has told the California Energy Commission that it should be extremely cautious about permitting another plant using the same solar power tower technology as the one at Ivanpah until all the facts are known. We continue to follow this issue closely.
It has been Audubon California’s long-held belief that we don’t have to choose between renewable energy and bird conservation. Because of the immense threat that climate change poses to birds and other wildlife, the development of renewable energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is essential to protecting future bird populations. But we have every right to expect that renewable energy be properly sited and implemented to minimize the danger to birds.