Many golden eagles and other protected birds died due to collisions with infrastructure at wind energy plants

A U.S. energy firm has been ordered to cough up $1 million in fines and community service payments after authorities discovered numerous golden eagles and other protected birds, including hawks, blackbirds, larks, wrens and sparrows, had been killed due to collisions with infrastructure at the firm’s wind energy plants in Wyoming.

This week Duke Energy Renewables Inc. pleaded guilty to criminal charges brought by the Department of Justice relating to the violation of the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), under the head of “unpermitted avian takings.”

It was found that 14 golden eagles and 149 other protected birds had perished at Duke’s “Campbell Hill” and “Top of the World” wind projects in Converse County between 2009 and 2013, plants that comprised 176 large wind turbines sited on private agricultural land.

The firm will be placed on probation for five years, the DoJ said, during which time it is required to implement an environmental compliance plan aimed at preventing bird deaths at four of its commercial wind projects in Wyoming.

In a statement, Greg Wolf, president of Duke Energy Renewables, said, “We deeply regret the impacts to golden eagles at two of our wind facilities. We have always self reported all incidents, and from the time we discovered the first fatality, we’ve been working closely with the Fish and Wildlife Service to take proactive steps to correct the problem.”

No safety measures

Although Mr. Wolf said his company aimed to provide the benefits of wind energy “in the most environmentally responsible way possible,” the Department of Justice case against Duke noted that the firm “failed to make all reasonable efforts to build the projects in a way that would avoid the risk of avian deaths by collision with turbine blades, despite prior warnings about this issue from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).”

According to wildlife specialists, eagles “often fail to look up as they search for prey until it is too late, slamming into the turbines,” and they could also be “sucked in by the tornado-like vortex created by the fast-moving blades.”

The fines paid by Duke will be channelled towards wildlife and wetlands conservation bodies, including the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund, the State of Wyoming, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

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