They call them “streamers” for the smoke plume that comes from the birds as they ignite in midair while flying over solar plants. Solar plant operators argue that the puffs of smoke commonly seen erupting above the panels is nothing more than insects or bits of airborne trash being ignited by the solar rays reflecting from the panels. Wildlife investigators however, recently reported witnessing an average of one “streamer” every two minutes at the BrightSource Energy plant in California. The full extent of bird deaths from solar panels is not known and ranges from 1,000 to 28,000 deaths per year.
According to ABC News:
“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.”
Solar plants can have more than 300,000 mirrors, each the size of a garage door, which reflect solar rays onto 40-story boiler towers. The water inside the boiler towers is heated and used to produce steam which drives turbines to generate electricity. Reflections and heat from the panels is tremendous. It has been reported that sun rays reflected from the field of mirrors at a Los Angeles solar plant were bright enough to blind pilots flying in from Las Vegas.
While biologists say there is no known feasible way to curb the number of birds killed, the companies behind the projects say they are hoping to find one – studying whether lights, sounds or some other technology would scare them away.