How a bird started a fire at a solar farm

Source: By David R. Baker and Millicent Dent, Bloomberg • Posted: Thursday, June 27, 2019

“One wing touches each of the conductors, and they turn into a lightbulb,” said Zach Nichols, a battalion chief for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “Happens all the time.”

The company that owns the solar farm, Clearway Energy Inc., had blamed the fire on an “avian incident” without saying what exactly happened at the remote facility in the arid grass lands between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The blaze damaged power poles and wires at the plant and knocked out 84% of its generating capacity, causing an estimated $8 million to $9 million in losses, the company said.

California is home to a different solar plant that’s notorious for burning birds. But that facility — the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System — uses a another technology altogether. At Ivanpah, fields of mirrors concentrate sunlight onto centralized towers, posing a hazard to birds flying into the beams.

Last week’s fire, in contrast, occurred at a solar farm that uses photovoltaic panels, just like the ones on rooftops.