Endangered bird found dead at PV solar facility
US Fish and Wildlife are asking serious questions about the death of an endangered species of bird, the Yuma Clapper Rail, at the Riverside County solar project in California. The bird was found dead on the site of a desert solar facility. If the solar facility was responsible for the death of the endangered wading bird, this green energy producer could find itself crosswise of the Endangered Species Act.
A bird found dead at a Riverside County solar project in May was a Yuma clapper rail, a Federally listed Endangered species. The rail is one of a number of water birds found dead at the site, according to one of the owners of the project. The fatality marks the first reported death of a Federally Endangered bird at a renewable energy generation site in the mainland U.S.
A spokesperson for the Desert Sunlight solar facility near Joshua Tree National Park in Riverside County, confirmed that a rail was found dead on the project site on May 8, further adding that a several dead grebes have also been discovered at the site, and were also reported to relevant agencies for investigation.
The fact that several other water birds were found dead in the middle of a desert solar facility is especially interesting, as one would wonder why so many water birds are flocking to this installation. The picture and discussion near the bottom of the cited KCET article provides a probable clue for the bird’s confusion; from a distance, the solar panels strongly resemble a body of water.
PV panels polarize the light they reflect, much like the surface of a body of water. The resemblance of the PV field pictured to a lake is remarkable, even in bright daylight that reveals the technological underpinnings of the site. For night-flying birds, especially on nights when a new or crescent moon doesn’t provide much light, all the birds would have to go on would be the reflection of the stars in the PV panels. 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.