Misaligned mirrors are being blamed for a fire that broke out yesterday at the world’s largest solar power plant, leaving the high-tech facility crippled for the time being. It sounds like the plant’s workers suffered through a real hellscape, too.
A small fire was reported yesterday morning at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) in California, forcing a temporary shutdown of the facility. It’s now running at a third of its capacity (a second tower is down due to scheduled maintenance), and it’s not immediately clear when the damaged tower will restart. It’s also unclear how the incident will impact California’s electricity supply.
Putting out the blaze was not easy task, either. Firefighters were forced to climb 300 feet up a boiler tower to get to the scene. Officials said the fire was located about two-thirds up the tower. Workers at the plant actually managed to subdue the flames by the time firefighters reached the spot, and it was officially extinguished about 20 minutes after it started.
Have you heard about the funnel effect? It appears solar plants can draw in millions of insects and fry them. And then migratory birds drop in to eat the insects and the birds then get fried too.
“USFWS also noted an issue ReWire hasn’t covered before, and we suspect it has something to do with that funnel effect: the mortality of insects. The agency says the Palen solar project may have a serious effect on insects, based on experience at BrightSource’s Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) site, now nearing completion in San Bernardino County. “Staff with the CEC reported large mortalities of insects killed during flux testing at the ISEGS site,” says USFWS. “[A]mong those documented include migratory monarch butterflies and dragonflies.”
A subsequent passage in the note on insects is an important summary of the relevance of insect mortalities to risk to other wildlife:
The ecological effects of mass insect mortalities have not been investigated
and may lead to greater levels of mortality than have been anticipated. In particular,
concentrations of insects are likely to draw insectivorous and omnivorous migratory
birds, including many raptors, which may increase the risk of bird mortalities.
If you have a facility that both attracts an entire food chain and then poses a risk of mortality or injury to individual animals at any level in that chain, then you’ve created an ecosystem-wide population sink that can metaphorically “funnel” individual animals from a wide stretch of habitat to a single spot where they meet their demise.