October 23, 2014 - Ivanpah Valley, CA - A visit to the desert valley south of Las Vegas, NV, showed all three power towers on. Yet some late cumulus clouds formed in the afternoon and slowly moved towards the vast solar fields. Before each cloud shadow reached the mirrors that reflect sunlight intensely onto the tower, each unit was turned off. Heliostats with garage-door sized mirrors were turned to face upward instead of directed onto the receiver on top of the tower, shutting down the white-hot glow. When this happens the water in the tower pipes ceases to superheat into steam, and does not contribute to turning the steam turbine to produce electricity. At one point all three towers were "off."
The operator must do this in order to not damage the receiver: if one side was absorbing intense solar flux from sunlight-reflecting mirrors, and another side of the receiver was cool from shadowed mirrors, the receiver could warp. So the operator shuts the plant down before the cloud shadows move over.
^ON: White-hot glow of sunlight reflected by mirrors.
^OFF: the tower receiver is darkened as most mirrors are aimed away due to cloud shadows over the solar field.
^OFF: a view from across the valley of Unit 2 off.
^Clouds move over the solar fields in Ivanpah Valley, all three units turned off.
Birds Igniting in Midair: CBS News Reports on Ivanpah and Palen Solar Power Towers
August 18, 2014 - CBS News headlines the controversy over bird deaths at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System raised by biologists:
June 28, 2014 - The California Energy Commission approved a request to raise the limit on the amount of natural gas burned in boilers at the Ivanpah solar project which requires steam heated by the sun and auxilliary boilers to power steam turbines to generate electricity. The notice states:
“Solar Partners have stated in their petition that the auxiliary boilers will need to operate an average of approximately 5 hours a day during daily startup (instead of the original expectation of an average of approximately 1 hour per day) in order to ensure that steam flow is sufficient to carry excess heat from the receivers in the towers and to
ensure that equipment components continue to operate as designed. Based on ISEGS
experience since December, 2013, Solar Partners became aware of a need for
additional fuel use in the auxiliary boiler during periods of intermittent cloud cover, after
the turbine tripped off-line during extensive cloud cover, and at the end of the day to
extend solar power production.”
In addition the CEC notice explains:
"Operating experience since commencement of commercial operation in December
2013, has shown that more steam is needed from the auxiliary boilers than originally
expected to optimize operations and maximize solar output.
"Auxiliary boilers typically need to operate an average of approximately 5 hours a
day during startup (an increase from the 1-hour daily average originally
expected) to ensure that steam flow is sufficient to carry excess heat from the
receivers in the towers and that when weather conditions are sufficient to permit
plant operation, plant equipment and systems are ready to operate as designed.
"Additional fuel is needed during some days to compensate for intermittent cloud
cover to maintain peak power production and prevent the steam turbine from
tripping off-line. When cloud cover is dense enough and/or persists long enough
to trip the turbine off-line, steam generated by the auxiliary boilers is needed to
restart solar power production.
"Auxiliary boiler operation is needed at the end of the day to stabilize or support
steam turbine operation, particularly during the peak summer period, to maximize
the capture of solar energy as daily solar insolation declines."
This last paragraph is new news: it is saying they want to burn natural gas during peak summer usage times when the utilities are stressed by people coming home from work and turning on their AC units and TVs. Peak summer use times are often around 6 PM. Basically they want to use ISEGS as an extremely inefficient natural gas peaker plant during the summer, so why not just build a more efficient natural gas peaker plant which would cost less and take up less land (we are not saying we are for fossil fuel burning, just comparing the technologies). This was not a use that was asked for during the evidentiary hearings, they only wanted natural gas boilers for cold morning start up and cloud cover. CEC and NRG are admitting their steam power tower technology does not work well and may not acheive full load with solar alone.
Flash-Glare Seen From an Airplane of Ivanpah Solar Power Towers
May 30, 2014 - See photos taken from a passeneger jet taking off from Las Vegas, Nevada, >>here.
May 26, 2014 - The April compliance report for the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System shows that tortoises continue to die. Three adult tortoises were found dead from canid predation, most likely coyote or kit fox. It is unknown whether the project activities in this once wild desert are attracting more coyotes and foxes which then find the translocated tortoises.
One new juvenile tortoise was discovered inside the project — not all are found and removed during construction since many are underground in small burrows that may be missed. It was relocated outside the project boundary. In addition, jack rabbits, 4 kit foxes, a gopher snake, 4 coachwhip snakes, a sidewinder, a Mojave rattlesnake, and a long-nosed snake were encountered inside the project. Seven jackrabbits were found dead onsite, apparently killed by canids (most likely coyotes). Also a dead kit fox was found onsite.
One translocated male adult tortoise was found sick and pacing the fence on the outside, perhaps trying to get back to its former home range. It was transported to a veterinarian.
A total of 23 transmittered tortoises were missing, including 5 juveniles which had been in the holding pens inside the project.
No raptor nesting behavior was observed on the site anytime this month. Off site, there are currently five pairs of red-tailed hawks nesting in the surrounding areas off the project, all feeding young in nests located on transmission towers. The golden eagles occupying the nesting territory in the Stateline Hills were first observed incubating eggs March 11, in a nest on the cliffs. The pair failed in incubation, and they have not made a second nesting attempt.
Two pairs of adult ravensare nesting on the site, and a third adult raven is now observed infrequently in Unit 1. These resident birds use both the site and adjacent recipient areas. Vagrant raven activity on site this month was limited to sightings of solitary birds.
The report states: "The majority of anthropogenic raven foraging documented on site has been for food scraps discarded on the ground by construction personnel in work areas, parking lots, and along roadways. In April we observed ravens taking these ground scraps five times, and foraging on the ground in construction areas on unknown items twice. One observation was made this month of ravens successfully foraging from an uncovered dumpster. There were nine observations made this month of ravens drinking on site from anthropogenic sources. These included water spill containment pans, leaking pipes, water filter tanks, and leaking water trucks. All instances of raven drinking were addressed directly with repairs or engineering alterations, and workers informed how to prevent ravens from accessing water."
A kit fox den with two foxes was discovered on the site and is monitored with a camera. Another kit fox den is located under the heliostats in Unit 3, and camera images showed 5 pups which were later predated by a bobcat. A third natal den is outside the project but apparently kit fox from the burrow den use the project. On April 30 a dead adult kit fox was found under a heliostat in Unit 3, apparently predated by a bobcat.
These raven, bobcat, and kit fox activities raise the question of how many dead or injured birds and bats are scavenged onsite and not detected by surveyors.
In April, 98 birds were found dead, many migrants and others local resident desert species. Swallows include barn, violet-green, cliff, tree, as well as a white-throated swift. Numerous hummingbirds were found: Anna’s, Costa’s, rufous, calliope, and broad-tailed.
Brewer’s, Lincoln’s, black-throated, and white-crowned sparrows were reported. Several mounting doves were found dead, but also introduced rock dove and Eurasian collared dove. Horned larks were killed as well as several western meadowlarks. Among warblers, yellow-rumped were most common, but also Wilson’s, Nashville, Townsend’s, and hermit.
Three American kestrels were found dead. Other reported carcasses were of Brewer’s blackbirds, a coot, loggerhead shrikes, and house finch.
An airplane incident happened in March of 2014, and a letter was sent detailing how intense flash-glare from the mirror fields temporarily blinded the pilot and first officer of a small corporate light 2 turbojet aircraft carrying passengers.
The letter states: "While on the KEPEC3 arrival into LAS we were temporary blinded by bright lights (reflections) from the ground. These reflections, coming from the new solar power station were so bright that any attempt to look outside the plane was met with pain and temporary blindness even when looking back inside. Any attempt to see and avoid was useless and trying to find the airport during this time was painful as well. Exposure lasted about 5 minutes. We notified ATC [air traffic control] and were told that they get a lot of complaints about these reflections.” The intense sunlight reflection was encountered at 13,000 feet. The letter continues that the first officer "was in the left seat and viewed the mirror reflections for only seconds then was able to get his head sheltered below the glareshield and away from the light. However even after the brief exposure, he had blue dots in his vision for about 5 minutes. The First Officer had no way to avoid the light even while not looking directly at it. The First Officer was literally blind for a greater than five minutes and neither pilot's vision was capable of detecting objects outside of the cockpit for a period of time."
Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System Opening Ceremony
February 12, 2014 - Eastern San Bernardino County, CA - Agencies confirmed that the three power tower concentrating solar thermal plant have a grand opening ceremony this Thursday in the desert near the Nevada border. Interior Secretary Ernest Moniz will apparently be there. The ceremony is not open to the public. The project has been delayed due to engineering problems with such a massive new power plant, but may soon officially connect with the grid and go online after much testing.
See the Department of Energy's blog: http://energy.gov/articles/celebrating-completion-worlds-largest-concentrating-solar-power-plant
November 19, 2013 - The latest photos from Ivanpah Valley, CA, show the power towers at a very bright test stage. We thank David Budlong for the following photos, taken a few days ago.
^Unit 1 of ISEGS in a test, perhaps at 80% or greater of mirrors aimed at the boiler on top of the tower to superheat steam.
^Here the focus of the mirrors is aimed just off the tower, and solar flux can be seen as two light spots hanging in the air.
^The project in the distance looking northward. Interstate 15 lies to the right.
^Unit 1 as seen from near the Nipton Rd turnoff.
^The tower being tested. A tortoise exclusion fence is in the foreground. Clark Mountain in the Mojave National Preserve rises in the background.
^Solar power tower testing as seen from Interstate 15 near Primm, NV.
^Unit 2, off, under Clark Mountain.
Bird Mortality Reports
^Unit 1 being tested last week in Ivanpah Valley, showing the visible solar flux glow around the tower as mirrors aim bounced sunlight onto the target. The flux energy extends 2,000 feet out from the tower at decreasing strength.
October 1, 2013 - Numerous birds are being found dead or injured at the large-scale Ivanpah solar power tower project as it continues testing during the construction phase.
The California Energy Commission released compliance reports detailing the finds.
A Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) was found injured on August 13, 2013 along Collosseum Road that goes through the project. The report says: "The swallow was found to be bright and alert, with normal posture but unable to fly. Eyes and beak appeared normal. There was marked curling, melting, and charring evident on the feathers of the wings, back, and tail. Substantial portions of the feather barbs were absent, apparently burned away. Both wings appeared equally affected, with the primary, secondary, and covert feathers showing the most evidence of damage. Covert feathers covering the back had evidence of minor curling and melting. Covert feathers covering the head, breast and ventrum were not obviously affected. The bird was able to fold its wings in a somewhat normal manner, and stand without difficulty. There was no evidence of ectoparasites, mechanical trauma, or chemical burns or residue. Damage to feathers was most consistent with thermal or electrical burns. The closest sources of extreme heat where the bird was found are the flood lights and generators located by the guard shack. There were also utility lines near its location. No flux has been produced in Unit 2 since May 14th and Unit 1 since July 17th. Flux in Unit 3 has occurred daily since August 5th and at various times during each day."
The description is more consistent with the damage a bird would suffer when it flies through the intense solar flux surrounding a power tower, and this bird may have flown through Unit 3 during testing, only landing some distance away. This had been predicted by experts during the CEC evidentiary hearing for the Hidden Hills solar power tower project.
^Northern rough-winged swallow with feather burns.
Other birds found dead on the project site include such varied species as Greater Roadrunner (three different birds, one heliostat strike) and waterbirds such as Eared Grebe and American Coot (3, one from heliostat strike). Raptors found dead were a Cooper's Hawk and a Peregrine falcon (one juvenile with melted feathers on September 6, 2013). The other birds include many small songbirds which were either migrating through the desert or resident in the region: a Mourning dove (scorched, melted feathers), Yellow-Billed Cuckoo, Lesser Nighthawk (4, one heliostat strike), Common poorwill, White-Throated Swift (heliostat strike), Western wood-pewee, Ash-throated flycatcher, Blue-gray gnatcatcher (2, one with scorched, melted feathers), Common raven (electrocution), Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Wilson's warbler (2, one scorched, melted feathers and one tower strike), MacGillivray's warbler (scorched, melted feathers), Common yellowthroat, Black-throated gray warbler (scorched, melted feathers), Cassin's vireo (scorched, melted feathers), Loggerhead Shrike (4), Western Tanager (4, one heliostat strike), Horned Lark (heliostat strike), Northern mockingbird, Black-Throated Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow (heliostat strike), Chipping Sparrow (2, one with scorched, melted feathers), White-Crowned Sparrow, Black-throated sparrow (2, both heliostat strikes), Brewer's Sparrow, Green-Tailed Towhee, Lazuli bunting, Pine Siskin, House finch (scorched, melted feathers), and Brown-headed cowbird. Four unknown bird species were also picked up. The dates include November 27, 2011 through September 19, 2013.