One of the world's largest solar projects, which uses heat from the sun to generate power in California, opened this week.
However, environmentalists have pointed out that some birds flying through the “extremely hot” region are being scorched to death and the habitat of the desert tortoise is being adversely affected.
“Sprawling across 3,500 acres (1,400 hectares) in the Mojave desert near the California-Nevada border, the $2.2 billion Ivanpah solar thermal power plant has more than 300,000 mirrors that reflect sunlight onto boilers housed in the top of three towers, each of which is 150 feet (45 meters) taller than the Statue of Liberty,” Reuters reported on Thursday.
Ivanpah is jointly owned by privately-held developer BrightSource, power plant owner NRG Energy Inc and Google Inc .
The solar power farm may be the largest of its kind but to conservationists, it’s a major threat to wildlife present in its surroundings.
“The gigantic mirrors are generating about 1000 degree Fahrenheit temperatures which are killing and singeing birds,” environmental groups argue.
Moreover, documents released by BrightSource Energy last year showed dozens of injured birds at the site during the building stage.
Some of the dead birds – including a peregrine falcon, a grebe, two hawks, four nighthawks and a variety of warblers and sparrows – appeared to have singed or burned feathers, according to federal biologists and documents filed with the state Energy Commission.
The Western Watersheds Project, an environmentalist group, is currently pursuing a lawsuit against the federal agencies that reviewed the Ivanpah project.
“The project site consists of 5.4 square miles of high quality habitat for the Endangered Species Act protected desert tortoise. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service relied upon the project proponent's self-serving science that woefully underestimated the number of desert tortoise that would be impacted by the development,” the organization stated on its website.
Though Ivanpah plant is an engineering marvel and often hailed as “a dawn of a new era in power generation in the United States”, it may be the last solar power plant in The Golden State because of the widespread environmental as well as financial concerns.
Experts doubt more plants like it will be built in California because other solar technologies are now far cheaper than solar thermal, Reuters stated. Federal guarantees for renewable energy projects have dried up, and natural gas-fired plants are much cheaper to build.