Mojave Desert solar plant

A solar plant in the Mojave Desert is inadvertently killing thousands of birds every year.

There is a massive solar energy plant in the Mojave Desert that typically provides many environmental benefits, but lately there seems to be a new environmental concern associated with the plant. The solar energy facility, which is a joint project between NRG Energy, BrightSource Energy, and Google, is killing thousands of birds mid-air each year as they pass over the plant’s 300,000 mirrors.

Its inaugural announcement stated that “at full capacity, the facility’s trio of 450-foot high towers produces a gross total of 392 megawatts (MW) of solar power, enough electricity to provide 140,000 California homes with clean energy and avoid 400,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, equal to removing 72,000 vehicles off the road.” This impressive production of clean energy has been met with praise since it first began operating.

The new $2.2 billion US solar power plan was launched in February this year and is supposedly the world’s largest solar power generating facility. Despite its ability to create clean energy, environmentalists have raised some valid concerns. “Federal wildlife investigators who visited the BrightSource Energy plant last year and watched as birds burned and fell, reporting an average of one ‘streamer’ every two minutes, are urging California officials to halt the operator’s application to build a still-bigger version,” Associated Press reports.

“The bird kills mark the latest instance in which the quest for clean energy sometimes has inadvertent environmental harm. Solar farms have been criticized for their impacts on desert tortoises, and wind farms have killed birds, including numerous raptors,” notes the Associated Press story.

It seems that lately there have been many renewable energy technologies that come at other environmental costs. For example, hydraulic fracturing for natural gas and oil have been shown to contaminate groundwater supplies and burning coal is causing climate change. All energy projects have some degree of environmental impact, and hopefully the Mojave Solar Plant will find a way to minimize its harm to local wildlife.