The $2.2 Billion Bird-Scorching Solar Project At California's Ivanpah Plant

Cooked Bird

“cooked bird” Image Credit: BrightSource Energy

It’s not just Wind Turbines that kill wildlife, from the Wall Street Journal:

“A giant solar-power project officially opening this week in the California desert is the first of its kind, and may be among the last, in part because of growing evidence that the technology it uses is killing birds.”

“The $2.2 billion solar farm, which spans over five square miles of federal land southwest of Las Vegas, includes three towers as tall as 40-story buildings. Nearly 350,000 mirrors, each the size of a garage door, reflect sunlight onto boilers atop the towers, creating steam that drives power generators.”

“The owners of the project— NRG Energy Inc., NRG, Google Inc. GOOG and BrightSource Energy Inc., the company that developed the “tower power” solar technology—call the plant a major feat of engineering that can light up about 140,000 homes a year.”

“Ivanpah is among the biggest in a spate of power-plant-sized solar projects that have begun operating in the past two years, spurred in part by a hefty investment tax credit that expires at the end of 2016. Most of them are in California, where state law requires utilities to use renewable sources for a third of the electricity they sell by 2020.”

“Utility-scale solar plants have come under fire for their costs–Ivanpah costs about four times as much as a conventional natural gas-fired plant but will produce far less electricity—and also for the amount of land they require.

That makes for expensive power. Experts have estimated that electricity from giant solar projects will cost at least twice as much as electricity from conventional sources. But neither the utilities that have contracted to buy the power nor state regulators have disclosed what the price will be, only that it will be passed on to electricity customers.”

“The BrightSource system appears to be scorching birds that fly through the intense heat surrounding the towers, which can reach 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

The company, which is based in Oakland, Calif., reported finding dozens of dead birds at the Ivanpah plant over the past several months, while workers were testing the plant before it started operating in December. Some of the dead birds appeared to have singed or burned feathers, according to federal biologists and documents filed with the state Energy Commission.”

“Regulators said they anticipated that some birds would be killed once the Ivanpah plant started operating, but that they didn’t expect so many to die during the plant’s construction and testing. The dead birds included a peregrine falcon, a grebe, two hawks, four nighthawks and a variety of warblers and sparrows. State and federal regulators are overseeing a two-year study of the facility’s effects on birds.”

“The agency also is investigating the deaths of birds, possibly from colliding with structures, found at two other, unrelated solar farms. One of those projects relies on solar panels and the other one uses mirrored troughs. Biologists think some birds may have mistaken the vast shimmering solar arrays at all three installations for a lake and become trapped on the ground after landing.”

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James at 48

Steam can be very carbon neutral and much more benign to wildlife. I am referring to burning biomass.


Something I never see in the AGW’s calculus for solar farms: land acquisition costs.


They are building something like that close to us
Pelosi in on the the scam


Umm, duh! It has been a well known fact since the 60’s that guidance control radars on Naval Ships will fry sea birds at distances in excess of 100 meters, why anyone would be surprised at the result of the above is beyond me.

I live in Las Vegas and have drove past Ivanpah many times. It is impressive to see. But we already knew it’s a costly waste of money to run. Going Green is a big waste of green backs. So then, where are the bird watching groups and other animal groups? Ivanpah cooks the birds, wind turbines splatter them. Green – great idea huh?

Watch how quickly the so-called “environmentalists” demonstrate that they really couldn’t care less about dead wildlife, unless the deaths can be used to advance their political goals.
What a magnificent irony – in terms of wildlife preservation, Oil and Gas development is actually the most environmentally friendly source of large scale energy production available!
(even Hydro requires the sacrifice of thousands of acres of productive valley and river bottoms, see Hetch Hetchy)
Okay, I’ll tip my hat to the nuclear proponents – that doesn’t actually hurt any real wildlife, either.

It produces how much electrickery at night?
I’d love for the people who advocate ‘Green Energy’ to have to prove that it works by living with it as a sole source for twelve months.


This is beyond obscene. Solar is hugely inefficient and only operates when the sun is shining. Because no effective battery system can store the energy for when its needed during the night means that at best these huge bird scorching monstrosities only operate in daylight hours and then far more inefficiently than gas or coal. We consumers are paying a high price for the holier than thou worshipers of the global warming religion!


“State and federal regulators are overseeing a two-year study of the facility’s effects on birds.”

Reblogged this on Lake Erie Conservative and commented:
… fried fowl , yummy !…

One thought about solar panel farms is the fact that they are heat absorbers/sinks. It would be interesting to observe the temps 200 feet above the solar farms compared to the surrounding real estate. Are the farms themselves creating more warming than their emissions are supposed to reduce?
I’ve seen various claims about the acreage they require (solar panel farms, that is) – some studies have no doubt improperly used the the nameplate capacity as the generation capacity (which is roughly four times less than the nameplate capacity). I calculated 80,000 acres of solar panels required to match the gross output of a modern nuclear reactor.
I thought all of the solar thermal farms, such as this one, had been abandoned due to costs.

I heard a portion of an interview on NPR this afternoon where an environmental advocate hemmed-and-hawed around a proposed rewriting of wildlife protection rules so California could get more water for its growing population. Madness.

M. Nichopolis

Just went to the BrightSource website, and submitted a comment recommending they do something cheap and easy, like put a ring of scarecrows around the 300,000 mirror power plant, or if they want to go all 21st century, install speakers to emit bangs / ultra-sonic pops to drive the birds away. (If keyed off the cameras / computers, it could be an almost environmentally friendly way to keep birds away from the plant / towers).
Not that I am pro-solar… The thing is a gigantic waste of both money, and the environment. Bah.
Anyways, 100 to 1 big solar pharma doesn’t do anything — other other than open a KFC outside the Ivanpah plant.

Fabi: Land cost, way out where it’s cheap & hot. Then the transmission cost.


OK. I’m a business man and I want to build a solar plant and sell the energy.
It’s 377MW at maximum output like the one above.
It’ll work on average 20% of the time giving me an ave output of 75.4MW or 75,400 kws = Power
Energy = It’ll produce 75,400 times 365 days times 24 hrs = 660,000,000 kwHrs/yrs
It’ll cost me 2.2 billion like above, so I”ll get a business loan at 6% for 30 years.
My yearly payment will be $158,000,000.
My cost to produce this electricity will be $158,000,000/660,000,00 kwhrs or
$.24 or 24cents per kwHr.
Since electricity can be bought wholesale for less than 5 cents per kwHr, I think I’ll get me a partner, the Federal Gov’t. Lucky for me, I can force people to buy my product, and not only force, them, they’ll feel they got a “bargain” and they will feel “good” about it too.
Anyone want to buy some FREE electricity?

Good conservation biology is going backward.In order to address CO2 fear-mongering and speculated wildlife devastation, tax dollar are being spent on projects that visibly are killing bats and birds. Its insane!

Chad Wozniak

Just another demonstration of how so-called “renewable” energy is infinitely dirtier than fossil fuels.
The EPA is giving bird choppers a free pass on penalties for violating the Endangered Species Act. It’s a felony if you accidentally kill an eagle, but Duke Energy – a prime crony capitalist buddy of the Administration – got a pass on something like 84 dead eagles. The EPA is an accessory to a whole bunch of felonies here, methinks. And now we can figure they’ll give a free pass to bird fryers (and to birds killed by diving into solar panels thinking they’re water)
@fabi – No, they don’t include land, they don’t include the cost of fossil-fuel-powered spinning reserve and inefficient fast start fossil generation needed to protect the grid when the wind stops blowing or clouds cover the sun (resulting in up to 15 percent more fossil fuel burned to produce the same output of electricity), they don’t include the cost of transmission lines and substations, the cost of all the toxic chemicals needed to operate the installations, and the cleanup thereof.
By my calculations the real cost of either solar or wind, fully absorbed according to generally accepted cost accounting principles, is on the order of $2 per kWh.


Can’t these people get a unified front ? Are we saving birds and flooding humans, or killing our birds so our children’s children don’t have to see swaths of modeled dead Adelie penguin chicks ? Come on, let’s see some leadership here.

Berényi Péter

It would be a good idea to focus large arrays of solar mirrors to tall wind turbine towers and melt them to the ground. A double pronged attack is always more robust, than relying on a single solution. What is more, this way we could get rid of them in a carbon neutral way. This project only needs taxpayers’ money, of which there is plenty and savings on electricity bills would outweigh it anyway.


They produce zero energy at night necessitating they be backed up with a 24/7 generating system that can handle the entire nighttime load. That won’t be wind power.
What a foolish state.


12 Feb: UK Dailly Mail: Daniel Martin: So why wasn’t Thames dredged? In case a rare mollusc was disturbed – despite the region being described as one of the most ‘undefended flood plains in England’
9 Feb: UK Daily Mail: David Rose: Agency for flooding that puts greater water parsnips and voles before local people
CAGW causes…..unintended consequences.

Scandalously, the Audobon Society, never seems to complain when wind turbines slice and dice
our feathered friends (and possibly making our Whooping Cranes extinct).

John Morgensen

I have flown past the Ivanpah facility at 6,500 ft. several times since December and can attest that it is blinding to a small plane on the opposite side of the valley. It is not surprising that it would fry birds that got closer.

Re: pat at 13 Feb 1635: “CAGW causes…..unintended consequences.”
Cynical rhetorical question: What makes you think the consequences are unintended? (/sarc)
Cheers –

Tim Obrien

$2.2 billion to power 140,000 homes. And how long will it last in that climate and what nightmares of maintenance? And if you think the birds are bad, wait until see private pilot accidentally goes overhead…

Lil Fella from OZ

Still need sun. Where I live sun does not shine 24/7. Environmentalist don’t mind a few birds going down. They have new agenda now!


Reminds me of the game, Fallout – New Vegas. Should make a nice target for someone’s ICBM.

Berényi Péter

“The owners of the project— NRG Energy Inc., NRG, Google Inc. GOOG and BrightSource Energy Inc., the company that developed the “tower power” solar technology—call the plant a major feat of engineering that can light up about 140,000 homes a year.”

I wonder how many homes are there that need illumination at noon. On the other hand, they may be able to figure out how to focus dark light at night to boilers, especially if Google is involved in the project, because nothing is impossible for them.


My Forbes 500 buddy has a Marcellus Shale gas well (Pa)
It produces 5980 thousand cu ft/day
that’s 1.4 million KwHrs/day or 1400 MW hrs per day–hours-to-cubic-feet-of-natural-gas
Instead of all that, I’m going to get me a partner, guess who? Uncle Sam will go for that!
and I’m going to build me some wind turbines!
The 1.5MW wind turbines maybe??? will work 33% of the time, and give me an output of
1.5MW x .33 X 24hrs = 24 MWhrs
So, instead of going through all that trouble of dealing with the environmentalists, I’m going to put up 117 wind turbines. Of course, I’ll to sneak around and dig a gas well and have a turbine somewhere for the 66% of the time when my turbines aren’t working.
Oh, it’s such a good feeling to be a righteous man!


Yep. It’s locatable in Google Maps: Dang close to Nipton and Primm just like in the game (Fallout – New Vegas). Guess the high-priced electricity will power the water pumps at the Primm Valley Golf Course! 😀


What a coincidence that this massive project should be located in the home state of the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, the same guy who single-handedly shot down the Yucca Mountain storage facility for spent nuclear fuel rods. Conflict of interest? Nah…

Berényi Péter

I am sure this solar array is not only cooking birds, but also frying a great quantity of insects. If so, dead bodies need to be collected, be ground to powder and sold as environment friendly health food. I would be happy to cash royalties.

More info: All from Reuters News

Sprawling across 3,500 acres (1,400 hectares) in the Mojave desert near the California-Nevada border, the $2.2 billion Ivanpah solar thermal power plant has more than 300,000 mirrors that reflect sunlight onto boilers housed in the top of three towers, each of which is 150 feet (45 meters) taller than the Statue of Liberty.
The sun heats water inside the towers, creating steam that moves turbines and produces enough emissions-free electricity to power 140,000 homes, or about 392-megawatts.
Though Ivanpah is an engineering marvel, experts doubt more plants like it will be built in California. Other solar technologies are now far cheaper than solar thermal, federal guarantees for renewable energy projects have dried up, and natural gas-fired plants are much cheaper to build.
From a distance, the mirrors – known as heliostats – look like a pristine lake rising from the desert. Ivanpah, about four times larger than New York City’s Central Park, can even be seen from the International Space Station.
The Ivanpah plant was partially backed by a $1.6 billion loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy, the same controversial program that supported failed solar panel maker Solyndra.
The opening of the Ivanpah plant marks a big step in federal and state renewable energy efforts, but government funds for such projects under President Barack Obama have been largely tapped out.
That means the private sector must fill the gap at a time when building a natural-gas fired power plant costs about $1,000 per megawatt, a fraction of the $5,500 per megawatt that Ivanpah cost.
“Our job was to kickstart the demonstration of these different technologies,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in an interview high up on one of the plant’s three towers.
The solar market has changed dramatically since Ivanpah was approved by California regulators in 2010.
Traditional solar panels, based on photovoltaic technology that uses the sun’s light to generate electricity, have undergone a massive drop in price in the last few years, leaving solar thermal far costlier.
Ivanpah developer BrightSource Energy Inc has failed to secure a permit for any other solar thermal projects in California in part due to environmental concerns, including fears that the intense heat and energy around its plants would harm or kill desert birds.
Ivanpah is jointly owned by privately-held BrightSource, power plant owner NRG Energy Inc and Google Inc .
Aside from Ivanpah, NRG has invested in two other massive, government-backed solar power plants in the U.S. West, but said smaller photovoltaic (PV) solar panel installations are the future of the industry as it shifts toward distributed generation on rooftops and away from large solar farms.
“There’s no doubt that in terms of price competitiveness solar photovoltaic is cheaper,” NRG Chief Executive David Crane. “What really gets me excited in the morning is that there are 50 million American buildings that should have solar PV on them.”
Solar thermal projects like Ivanpah are more likely to crop up overseas in places like India, where land and sun are plentiful and cheap natural gas is not abundant as it is in the United States, said Andy Gillespie, project manager for Bechtel, the engineering and construction contractor for Ivanpah.
Late last year, Oakland-based BrightSource said it would focus increasingly on markets outside the United States and in using its technology for industrial applications like enhanced oil recovery, desalination and augmenting existing fossil fuel power plants. The market for solar thermal power will reach 30 gigawatts globally by 2020, up from 2.5 GW at the end of 2012, BrightSource said at the time.
“We will have failed as a company if the last project we build is Ivanpah,” BrightSource CEO David Ramm said at the plant’s opening.
BrightSource is more than 20 percent owned by French power equipment maker Alstom SA. Other investors include venture capital firms VantagePoint Capital Partners and DBL Investors, Goldman Sachs Inc GS.N, Chevron Technology Ventures and BP Ventures.

So, the same department that funded the losses at Solyndra, from the same people, all using evil-oil money. All knowing already they cannot make money from it – even before it turns on.
And, 3, 500 acres of glass over the desert – turning it barren and sterile below .. at 5x the price per Magewatt to build for 1/4 of the day able to get power out. (Yes, they could store the solar energy (somehow) and let it cool down as it generated “some” power overnight then heated again up in the morning. But THAT just means that 3/4 of each afternoon’s “potential” power gets wasted going to storage + losses + reheat losses + power gen losses. So the maximum afternoon output goes down by 3/4.


Mmmmm … scorched birds.

Dirk Pitt

I’ve tried (unsuccessfully) to find out what is the installed capacity (in MW) of this plant alone. I would like to compare the cost of a MW to nuclear, coal, nat-gas, or hydro. $2.2B seems extremely steep. For what output?
Anyone having this information?


GogogoStopSTOP says:
February 13, 2014 at 4:27 pm
I think there is some land available that is inexpensive, or even ‘free’ on Federal lands; however, those won’t suffice for very long should they try this farce on a large scale. But, yes, transmission infrastructure will be a significant new cost and yet another source of inefficiency.

Alarmists like theirs extra crispy.

Dirk Pitt

Being an engineer myself, the first thing that would come to my mind when designing something like this is how long these mirrors would last exposed to sand storms, before being sand blasted to next to no reflectiveness. This plant is in a desert, isn’t it?

Was looking at the site on Google Earth:
35°33’27.69″ N 115°28’00.29″ W
Copy and paste in Google Earth search to see the location. Boy, that’s a lot of mirrors!!!
Don’t they have to move all the mirrors as the sun moves across the sky to keep sunlight focused on the top of the tower?
Maybe it creates just enough electricity to move all the mirrors.

Tom J

Oh, am I gonna’ have fun with this. In fact, it’s gonna’ be so much fun I don’t know where to begin.
‘“The $2.2 billion solar farm, which spans over five square miles of federal land … includes three towers as tall as 40-story buildings. …350,000 mirrors, each the size of a garage door, reflect sunlight … creating steam that drives power generators.”
“The owners of the project … call the plant a major feat of engineering that can light up about 140,000 homes a year.”’
Now, let us start by asking for their interpretation of what it is to “light up” a home? Simple, you say? Probably not with these people because on so many occasions they conjure a magical meaning for a word, but then, wham, when we least expect it they become word meaning literalists. When they say, “light up a home” are they also including air conditioning that home, running a dehumidifier, refrigerator, dishwasher, electric oven (if so equipped), & flat screen. Or, does it (and don’t be surprised) it only mean literally turning on nothing other than a couple compact fluorescents?
Now, for the fun part. In the US each home is considered to be occupied by 2.58 human beings. (And yes, there is such a thing as a 0.58 human being: I turn into one after 4 martinis.) So this major feat (or, maybe ‘feet’ is more accurate) of engineering which can “light” (I believe we just discussed that) 140,000 homes can therefore provide this service to 361,200 people. Sounds impressive, right? But, just how many square miles do 361,200 people occupy … in homes? I’m sort of assuming they’re not considering a 10 story, 500 unit urban housing project as a home (but who knows). So, let us use a more traditional definition. One of the most, if not the most, densely populated suburbs of Chicago is Oak Park; famed for having been the residence of Frank Lloyd Wright, and the location of the Unitarian Church he designed. Anyway, Oak Park, bordering Chicago, with city characteristics of its own, has a mix of tightly packed single family bungalows, spacious single family homes, two flats, and a proliferation of old and new apartments and condos. In other words, it’s fairly dense with a population of 15,443 people per square mile. The overall population of Oak Park is scrupulously maintained so as not to fall below 50,000 (something about qualifying for matching funds). Oak Park encompasses about 3 1/4 square miles. Thus, this major feet of engineering, this engineering marvel, this stepping stone, this glimpse into the future can supply the electrical needs of about 7 Oak Parks occupying about 22 3/4 square miles while only occupying a mere 5 square miles itself. Maybe we can raze 1 1/2 of those 7 Oak Parks so that we can power (or, maybe, just light) the remaining 5 1/2.


Exactly, Tom J. Now, where are they going to install that solar farm for Manhattan? There’s cheap land around there, right? Maybe Central Park? Why is the acronym NIMBY flowing back into my memory all of a sudden?


James at 48 says:
February 13, 2014 at 4:02 pm
Steam can be very carbon neutral and much more benign to wildlife. I am referring to burning biomass.
Apparently this solar farm is burning biomass. 🙂


First it was windmills, now solar plants. Why do environmentalists hate birds so much?

This plant is 392 MegWatt, according to Reuters above. “That means the private sector must fill the gap at a time when building a natural-gas fired power plant costs about $1,000 per megawatt, a fraction of the $5,500 per megawatt that Ivanpah cost.”
A single modern large natural gas fired single-stage gas turbine creates a little over 375 MegWatt, and its secondary steam generator from the waste heat creates an additional 225 to 275 for “free” energy otherwise lost up the exhaust pipe on older single stage units.
So, you buy get a single CT combined cycle for 24-hour/365 day a year 570+ Meg capacity of generator for under 1.000 billion … and release free fertilizer to the feed the world. Or you can spend 5.5 x the money to get 3/4 the capacity running only 1/4 the output time.
Guess what the democrats chose?

Chris Riley

What The United States most urgently needs is a way to “fix stupid”, something that heretofore has been deemed to be entirely unfixable. Perhaps a Manhattan-Style project is appropriate here.


Chris Riley,
“Here’s your sign.”


“BrightSource Energy Inc., the company that developed the “tower power” solar technology—call the plant a major feat of engineering that can light up about 140,000 homes a year.”
Personally, I don’t think too many homes need much lighting between 09:00 and 14:00 every day.

Physics Major

There is no need for a study, just administer the law which already provides fines for killing protected species. I believe that killing a falcon will cost you $5000 and maybe even more if you persist in killing more falcons. There is nothing about this facility that should exempt it from the law.


Is anyone going to stop Obama and his war on birds?


This may actually be a viable alternative to photoelectric technology. It also offers the additional feature that environmental disruption is localized, thereby forcing immediate scrutiny of its impact. No more shifting the side-effects of “green” technology from recovery to reclamation, which has caused a distorted perspective of its value. We may yet have a rational review of each technology on its merits. There is no energy utopia and we should avoid forcing a misaligned development based on the false promise that it exists.