A Yuma clapper rail, a bird listed as Federally Endangered, has been found dead at a desert solar plant in California.
There have already been reports of numerous bird fatalities at wind farms around the country, posing questions as to how best to develop renewable energy while protecting wildlife and the environment. Solar power raises many of the same issues.
This is believed to be the first death of an Endangered bird at a renewable energy generation site in the mainland U.S., but it is only one of many birds that have died at the Desert Sunlight solar facility near Joshua Tree National Park.
The Yuma clapper rail was listed as Endangered in 1967 under the Endangered Species Preservation Act, which was a precursor to the 1973 Endangered Species Act. The bird used to roam in marshes and estuaries up and down the Colorado River from Utah to Mexico, but decades of human interference in this mighty river have hugely reduced the amount of freshwater habitat available for the bird.
Experts believe that fewer than 1,000 Yuma clapper rails survive in the United States.
If investigation proves the bird died as a result of operation of the solar project, the death could mean that Desert Sunlight is in violation of the Endangered Species Act. However, interestingly, the company issued a statement saying that the bird’s carcass was too badly decomposed to allow a determination of the cause of death.
Huge Solar Plants Taking Over In The West
Industrial-scale solar development is well underway in California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. The federal government has furnished 21 million acres for solar power, more public property to this cause than it has for oil and gas exploration over the last decade.
But there is a dark side to this solar development: potential destruction of the environment.
When complete later this year, the solar power project at Ivanpah Valley, CA will change the environment for miles around. The $2-billion plant will contain computers that continually focus the field of mirrors to a center tower filled with water, which will heat to more than 1,000 degrees, generating enough power for around 140,000 homes during peak hours.
That’s an impressive amount of renewable energy, but the area is also the habitat of desert tortoises, and the solar project has proven to be a disaster for them.
Why Are Water Birds Dying At Desert Solar Plants?
Indeed, what are water birds doing in the desert?
A large PV project would seem to offer an oasis for water birds in the desert, but coming in for a landing on such a “lake” could well prove routinely fatal, either at the moment of impact or after a disabled bird wanders off into the desert.
If Clarke is correct, such placements of solar panels could spell disaster for thousands more birds.
Isn’t it time for solar companies to find out exactly how their developments are affecting the natural environment?
Photo Credit: Jim Rorabaugh, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service