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A subsidiary of North Carolina-based Duke Energy has agreed to pay the first ever criminal fines to stem from the deaths of migratory birds at wind turbine sites in the US. Two of Duke Energy Renewables‘ Wyoming wind farms were found to have been responsible for the deaths of a staggering 14 golden eagles, as well as 149 other protected birds since 2009. Under a plea agreement, Duke Energy Renewables will pay $1 million in fines, restitution and community service for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Top of the World Wind Farm, Photo (cc) Duke Energy
There has been significant long-running concern over the threat that wind farms pose to avian life, with risks that birds can collide with turbine blades or meteorological towers or become entangled in power lines. Quite simply, as Michael Hutchins of the American Bird Conservancy explained to the New York Times, “All wind projects will kill some birds… It is, sadly, unavoidable, but some areas are worse than others, and we can predict where many of these will be.”
Where Duke Energy Renewables failed, in the eyes of the law, was to build wind farms on “Campbell Hill” and the “Top of the World” in Converse County, Wyoming, in such a way that did not minimize the threat posed to birds–particularly protected birds whose migratory path cuts through the farms’ locations. This failure occurred despite prior warnings from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) regarding the presence of protected birds in the area.
This comprises a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), which protects 1,000 species of birds in the US. In addition to the 14 golden eagles taken by the farms’ 176 wind turbines, 149 other species including hawks, blackbirds, larks, wrens and sparrows were killed between 2009 and 2013. The fines to be paid by Duke Energy Renewables form a landmark ruling. Regulating utility companies in wind farm-related bird deaths is a relatively new field—the first rules were drafted a mere ten years ago—and Duke Energy is the first utility to be prosecuted.
In addition to the fines, Duke is now required to work with the USFWS to mitigate risks posed by their farms to migratory birds. According to the NYT, radar technology will be used to help detect the presence of birds and determine when turbines need to be shut down. Meanwhile, the company must “must implement a migratory bird compliance plan containing specific measures to avoid and minimize golden eagle and other avian wildlife mortalities at the company’s four commercial wind projects in Wyoming,” and “will also be required to contribute “$340,000 to a conservation fund for the purchase of land, or conservation easements on land, in Wyoming containing high-use golden eagle habitat.
Via New York Times