Utility Company Pays $1 Million in First Fine for Wind Farm-Related Bird Deaths

by , 11/25/13

duke energy, duke energy renewables, wind farms, wind turbine, bird death, golden eagle, migratory birds, wyomingPhoto via Shutterstock

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.

duke energy, duke energy renewables, wind farms, wind turbine, bird death, golden eagle, migratory birds, wyomingTop 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

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  1. roughdesigns December 21, 2013 at 3:21 pm

    One word
    Fired power plants kill many times more humans, as well as birds, fish, cats, dogs, as the 4 eagles a year this wind farm did. This is PROVEN, the cancer rate in humans alone within a mile of a coal power plant it more than double than normal. Wildlife is even more sensitive to pollutants.
    Where is the US gov’t when it comes to prosecuting the fossil fuel industry?
    The solar and wind energy industries need to band together with mainstream and independent environmental groups to class action sue the US gov’t for unfair and unequal enforcement of environmental regulations. When every oil drilling rig has to have radar activated air bags to prevent birds from being damaged by flying into them, is when wind gens should need to shut down because there is a bird a mile away.
    I live in NYC, if birds routinely flew into objects sticking way up in the air, not just buildings, but the thousands of strands of suspension wire on our bridges, antennas on our buildings, power cable all over, not to mention a few thousand fast moveing jets a day, then we’d be hip deep in dead birds and we are not. Birds obviously routinely avoid objects in flight, it’s their job. It’s entirely probably the birds managing to hit wind gens are already impaired, so, it’s just evolution in action folks. Sooner or later they were going to hit something.
    Hate mail should be addressed to, get a sense of perspective.com.

  2. Agustin Rioperez November 27, 2013 at 7:07 am

    Imagine that there is an automatic and realtime bird detection system that is 5 times better than radar technology detecting birds in 150 m radius to the wind turbine and 2.5 times better in 300 m radius.

    Imagine that can provide online objective, transparent and non erasable data and videos of every bird flying in collision risk (even collisions data) for all users (Environmental Agencies, Ornithologist, Public,..).

    Imagine that can activate automatically (unattended) in realtime Warning and Dissuasion signal and/or wind turbine stops. With videos showing the results.

    Imagine that the cost of this technology is less 1% of the investment of the wind farm project, when it is installed in all wind turbines.

    This already exists and it is operating in some wind farms of France, Greece, Italy, Poland, Spain and Norway.

  3. WBrooke November 25, 2013 at 7:27 pm

    I have to agree with archonic. I am no enemy of golden eagles, but to have the environmental community bring law suits against an already fragile renewable energy sector seems baffling. Everybody is on the same team. It sucks to see eagles whacked by turbine blades, but coal-fired power stations release mercury, dioxins and furans that are much more insidious in the biosphere, leading to awful deformities in birds and thinning of egg shells. I am old enough to remember that in the 1980’s the boldest American symbol, the Bald Eagle, was on the verge of extinction from dioxins released from thermal power plants. EPA rules have changed requiring scrubbers, and dioxin releases are much lower now, but they are still present in smaller amounts along with an assortment of other carcinogens and heavy metals.

    It is terrible to compare death rates of a magnificent creature, but mortality by turbine strikes seems to be a one-by-one kind of process where individuals die, while coal-fired power stations have the capacity to induce species-wide reproductive disruption.

  4. archonic November 25, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    Meanwhile, fossil fuel companies are a detriment to every living creature on Earth, including humans, and pollute without reprimand – supported even through massive subsidies. What the ever living fuck.

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