Audubon supports the use of renewable energy sources, including solar energy, to reduce our carbon footprint and address climate change. As the country ramps up its renewable energy portfolio, properly sited solar facilities provide great opportunities for clean energy.
The primary challenge with solar energy is that projects of a commercial scale, to date, have been stand-alone construction. These sites take up habitat, usually farmland or inactive rural land. However, some projects have proposed removing forest to install solar, threatening birds and their habitats.
Co-locating solar on existing or new construction avoids this dilemma and is a priority for Audubon. These co-located solar projects can be built on rooftops or other built sites, like parking lot canopies. Another solution is placing ground-based arrays on previously developed or altered sites, such as old industrial sites or depleted gravel pits.
Impact to Birds
Other dangers posed to birds by commercial-scale solar projects are illustrated in recent reports showing that thousands of birds are being killed at a solar plant in California’s Mojave Desert.
The state-of-the-art Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS), which opened in February, is the world's largest solar plant to utilize "power towers," skyscraping structures that receive beams of focused solar rays to generate electricity. At Ivanpah, the sun's ray's are redirected from a sea of more than 300,000 mirrors on the desert surface below to hit water filled boilers atop three 459-foot "power towers." Temperatures near the towers can climb to 800 degrees, which causes the water to produce steam that turns turbines, which generate energy.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), birds are flying into the focused beams of sunlight and dying at a rate of up to one bird every two minutes. USFWS doesn't yet know the full extent of the solar facility's impact on bird populations and has called for a full year study of the death toll at the site before the plant's operators are allowed to construct an even bigger solar plant.
What You Can Do
Working with industry and local, regional and federal decision-makers, Audubon provides important information on how best to avoid bird and wildlife impacts from renewable installations. Working with developers before the bulldozers move in can avoid lengthy battles and provide better outcomes for birds, wildlife and critical habitat.
Audubon also works to promote properly sited transmission corridors to move energy from generation sites across the country to ensure that Important Bird Areas and other habitats critical for the survival of bird populations and migratory species are avoided.
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