Birds Continue to be Injured at Crescent Dunes Solar Power Tower
July 28, 2016 - Tonopah NV - Basin & Range Watch had the opportunity on July 25 to examine a prairie falcon (Falco mexicanus) that had been found July 20 from Crescent Dunes solar project and found injured in the solar field.The bird injury was confirmed by US Fish and Wildlife Service. We examined it and took photographs. The feathers were melted and degraded and sores were still growing, matching descriptions by California Energy Commission of solar flux damage. The falcon was alive and active but both wings and tail appeared to be burned off--but not burned--rather melted or degraded to an extreme so that it was impossible for the bird to fly. The flight feathers were curled in places as if exposed to extreme heat energy, apparently from the solar flux. Open sores were present on the wrist of each wing, one larger than the other, and skin was visible as feathers had been degraded away. It is possible the follicles of the feathers were damaged and the feathers may or may not be able to grow back.
There are various types of radiation: Ionizing and other. Ionizing radiation is produced from nuclear bombs and nuke plants, and has very short wavelength. Gamma rays, for example. The short wavelength has the ability to enter cells and disrupt DNA, causing cancer.
But there are other types of radiation, and solar flux falls under the category of infrared radiation in the electromagnetic spectrum. This has longer wavelengths. It is not ionizing, but can still be harmful. Solar flux is a high energy form of radiation, but as it encounters few molecules in the air it does little. But if it encounters an object, such as a bird, it transfers that heat energy to the tissues of the bird, causing massive degradation of molecular structure. The prairie falcon's injuries were somewhat similar to electrocution injuries (like a bird landing on a power pole and touching two points not insulated, for example--which we have seen). There are small wounds, and they grew in the prairie falcon, as tissues died. But this is different than electrocution or a lightning strike (another form of very concentrated heat energy), as the feathers were degraded as well.
The wounds were not like fire burns, no ash or charcoal. They were more like cell degradation, tissue disintegration, melting, intense tissue damage from high-energy heat radiation burning; like sunburn taken to lethal levels.
This form of intense electromagnetic radiation is similar in some ways to a Laser. A Laser is an intense beam of radiation that disintegrates an object. In this case the solar flux is widely dissipated through the solar field but concentrated towards the tower receiver where the mirrors aim the sunlight. Temperatures can reach 2000 degrees C here.
^First sore on wing. This wound was starting the heal.
^Detail of damage to flight feathers on wing.
^Open sore on the other wing.
^Detail of damage to tail feathers.
We were also given a report of an injured Lewis' woodpecker (Melanerpes lewis) from the Crescent Dunes Solar Project from around the same time, which died. The bird could eat but the wounds grew larger and skin died, finally reaching bone, and the woodpecker did not survive.
Basin and Range Watch remains deeply concerned that the Crescent Dunes Solar Project will continue to kill and maim birds, and that the public is not being adequately informed.
^Solar flux in operation at Crescent Dunes solar project.