FANS of the foodie movie “The Hundred-Foot Journey” left the theater knowing that there’s more ways to prepare fowl than roasting or frying and there are more kinds of birds to cook than chicken, turkey, ducks and the odd dove. With its focus on fabulous French haute cuisine, the movie makes a viewer wish the popcorn were a bit more sauced up.
Far from the picturesque French countryside is America’s Mojave Desert, where a high-tech solar power plant has been cooking birds by the thousands. Literally.
BrightSource Energy’s plant generates heat to a point that birds passing over are ignited. Plant workers refer to the unfortunate birds as “streamers,” supposedly for the smoke plume they create when falling from the sky.
Solar power thus joins another favorite (wind) of the environmental community in causing havoc to our avian friends. This is a spicy pickle for the wealthy lovers of alternative energy who also enjoy pigeon served with foie gras and truffles, a dish featured in “The Hundred-Foot Journey.”
The Associated Press reports that the $2.2 billion solar plant, which opened in February, is under scrutiny from federal wildlife investigators. BrightSource doesn’t have the typical array of solar panels. Instead, it uses more than 300,000 garage door-sized mirrors that reflect solar rays, beaming the heat to towering boilers that make steam without fossil fuel.
These pressure cookers turn turbines that generate electricity, some of which is used to fire up ovens to roast turkeys.
As with the giant wind turbines, the desert power plant will kill as many as 25,000 birds a year — and in a most gruesome fashion. AP reported that wildlife officials view such “power towers” as a “mega-trap” for wildlife. The bright light attracts bugs, which attract birds, which die, unloved and uneaten.
So we’re beginning to learn that green, healthy alternatives to fossil fuels may indeed be green but certainly not healthy for all concerned. Wind turbines kill birds as well; sometimes the dead birds are among the most noble of avian species — eagles and other raptors.
Defenders of green energy minimize the U.S. bird kill count. One source puts turbine-related kills at a tenth of a percent of “unnatural” bird deaths each year. Feral and domestic cats kill hundreds of millions of birds a year while wind turbines kill a mere 10,000 to 40,000.
Other sources put wind power bird kills much higher. Forbes magazine reported last year that the American Bird Conservancy fears the golden eagle will fly into the endangered species list because so many are being killed by turbines.
With the power towers, the green energy boom is poised to push those numbers up. This is indeed a dilemma for greenies, who are usually birds of a feather with wildlife conservation groups.
The Obama administration, which has delayed approval of a Canada-U.S. pipeline project for years, took little time to exempt wind turbines from federal regulations regarding wildlife conservation. Illegal bird kills can bring fines of up to $500,000, but an AP investigation revealed that Uncle Sam has never prosecuted a wind farm owner for killing birds.
By contrast, the oil industry has been taken to court over allegations that birds have been killed by exploration and production activity.
This blatant double standard shouldn’t be subject to a French kiss-off: Birds are being killed by the thousands at solar and wind power projects. If this is a tradeoff, so be it. But let’s have one standard here for wildlife protection.
As renewable energy grows, let’s at least cook from the same recipe book when it comes to birds. Energy production is a messy business, regardless of the energy source.