It’s a slow turn, but the Obama administration seems to be steering the wind power industry toward killing fewer birds. The latest sign: For the first time, a wind power company is paying for neglecting to do what it could to protect birds, including golden eagles.

The company is Duke Energy Renewables, subsidiary of energy giant Duke Energy. The bird deaths – 14 golden eagles and 149 other protected birds, including hawks, blackbirds, larks, wrens and sparrows – occurred at two Duke Energy Renewables wind farms in Wyoming.

duke wind power prosecution
The 99-megawatt Campbell Hill wind farm in Converse County, Wyo. (image via Duke Energy)

According to the U.S. Justice Department, which brought the prosecution  under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act :

Under a plea agreement with the government, the company was sentenced to pay fines, restitution and community service totaling $1 million and was placed on probation for five years, during which it must implement an environmental compliance plan aimed at preventing bird deaths at the company’s four commercial wind projects in the state.  The company is also required to apply for an Eagle Take Permit which, if granted, will provide a framework for minimizing and mitigating the deaths of golden eagles at the wind projects.

The government had charged that Duke “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).”

The feds did add that “to its credit, once the projects came on line and began causing avian deaths, Duke took steps to minimize the hazard.”  In a statement, Duke said it installed radar to detect eagles in flight and instituted other means that allow it to shut down turbines when eagles are spotted, among various measures.

Top of the World and Campbell Hill were some of the first wind sites we brought into service, during a period when our company’s and the wind industry’s understanding of eagle impacts at wind farms was still evolving,” said Tim Hayes, environmental development director at Duke Energy Renewables.

Duke said that after it began monitoring for eagles and curtailing power production as necessary, “more than a year passed without any known golden eagle fatalities at the sites near Casper, Wyo.

The American Wind Energy Association called the plea deal “a clear example of a wind company taking responsibility for unforeseen impacts to wildlife and providing conservation measures to not only offset those impacts, but also with respect to other sources of impact existing in the landscape today.” The agreement, the industry group said, “will help advance the knowledge of wind wildlife interactions to further reduce the industry’s relatively small impacts.”

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