A subsidiary of one of the largest clean energy producers in the country will pay millions in fines and face five years of probation after pleading guilty to the killing of at least 150 bald and golden eagles by wind turbines over the last decade.
ESI Energy Inc., a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources Inc., pleaded guilty to three counts of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a law that prohibits the killing, capturing, selling, trading and transport of more than a thousand migratory birds, after several golden eagles were killed after being struck by wind turbine blades at unpermitted facilities in Wyoming and New Mexico.
According to the Department of Justice, more than 150 bald and golden eagles have died across 50 of the company’s wind energy facilities, with 136 deaths attributable to eagle being struck by a wind turbine blade.
As part of a plea agreement, the company must pay a $1.9 million fine, $6.2 million in restitution and will have a five-year probation period. The company must also implement $27 million in measures to minimize additional eagle deaths and injuries and must pay $29,623 each time an eagle is injured or killed in the future. The company must also apply for permits that address eagle deaths at each of its facilities.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a long history of working closely with the wind power industry to identify best practices in avoiding and minimizing the impacts of land-based wind energy facilities on wildlife, including eagle,” said Edward Grace, assistant director of the USFWS’ Office of Law Enforcement. “This agreement holds ESI and its affiliates accountable for years of unwillingness to work cooperatively with the Service and their blatant disregard of wildlife laws and finally marks a path forward for the benefit of eagles and other wildlife resources entrusted to the Service’s stewardship.”
In addition to the MBTA, bald and golden eagles are protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which prohibits killing and wounding eagles without a permit from the USFWS.
ESI Energy’s parent company, NextEra Energy Resources, which owns half a dozen wind and solar energy facilities in Indiana, said it agreed to the plea deal in order to resolve the dispute.
"Unfortunately, the federal government, at odds with many states and a number of federal court decisions, has sought to criminalize unavoidable accidents related to collisions of birds into wind turbines while at the same time failing to address other activities that result in far greater numbers of accidental eagle and other bird mortalities,” the company said in a press release. “NextEra Energy Resources’ goal has always been, and remains, to develop our projects in ways that will not damage wildlife populations, including eagle populations, and we hope that our resources committed as part of this resolution will be devoted to optimizing eagle conservation.”
The company said it agreed to apply for eagle “take” permits under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act despite the company’s belief that the law does not require a permit to cover unintentional collisions that occur when eagles fly into properly developed wind energy facilities.
According to researchers, more than a million birds are killed by wind turbines in the U.S. every year, but that number is far exceeded by other factors that have been around for decades. Every year, about a billion birds are killed by windows, 25 million are killed every year by power lines and 6.5 million are killed by collisions with communications towers.