《TAIPEI TIMES》 Budai egrets add solar farm to habitat
Egrets perch on solar panels at a solar farm in Chiayi County’s Budai Township in an undated photograph. Screen grab from Budai Salt Pan Wetlands’ Facebook page
By Lin Chia-nan / Staff reporter
Egrets adapt better than most birds when a solar farm moves into their habitat, experts said, after images of egrets excreting feces on solar panels went viral online.
On Tuesday, the Budai Salt Pan Wetlands （布袋五鹽田） posted images on Facebook of birds resting on solar panels erected in a detention basin, while close-ups showed that the panels had been covered with the egrets’ droppings.
The basin in Chiayi County’s Budai Township （布袋） was in 2019 transformed from an abandoned salt pan into a solar farm, the Facebook page said in Chinese and English.
While the solar farm became new terrain for the egrets, other species, such as tufted ducks, greater scaups and Baer’s pochards, have lost their main habitat, as the ducks need open water in which to rest and search for food, it added.
Meanwhile, the panels’ ability to generate power is expected to decline due to the egrets’ droppings and energy developers must have the panels washed more often, it said, suggesting the venue might not be ideal for photovoltaic installations.
The Facebook post attracted many comments, with some users saying that the photographs show “nature’s revenge” and bemoaning the further environmental damage caused by cleaning chemicals.
Energy developer New Green Power Co welcomed the birds, saying that the photographs prove that the panels do not affect their habitat too much.
The panels function normally, but they do require monthly cleaning when birds are migrating, the company said on Thursday.
The solar farm, which started generating electricity in September last year, is the nation’s largest photovoltaic installation erected in a detention basin, the company said in a news release in November.
It has an installed capacity of 35.5 megawatts and can generate more than 50 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, the firm said.
The panels do not cover more than half of the basin’s water area of 74 hectares, and the solar farm demonstrates that ecology and industrial development can cohabitate, it said.
Taiwan Wild Bird Federation secretary-general Allen Lyu （呂翊維） said that Budai has been a hotspot for various bird species and that some species, such as egrets, more easily adapt to changes in their environment.
However, the habitats of other species, such as the tufted ducks, are limited due to their poor adaptability, he said, adding that the solar panels have affected their most important habitat in the region.
Not all power installations have negative effects, as some solar panels, if planned well, can serve as “ecological islands” for birds, Lyu added.
Careful environmental assessments are needed before projects are implemented if energy installations are to coexist with nature and have minimal effect; otherwise, energy developers end up paying greater unexpected costs, he said.
Asked about the number of tufted ducks on the solar farm, the Council of Agriculture’s Endemic Species Research Institute said that it has been monitoring the ducks’ migration to Budai since 2016.
The area had more than 800 tufted ducks in 2016, and 1,500 to 1,600 by 2019, research institute data showed.
However, after the solar farm’s construction, their number dwindled to 500 to 600, data released this month by the institute showed.
The ducks’ main habitat in the basin, especially the southern part, is covered with large panels, the institute said, adding that the remaining open water is largely reduced and fragmented.
The ducks did not move to the basin’s northern part, where there is more open water, it said.
They likely migrated elsewhere, it added.