A North Carolina-based wind developer will pay $1 million in fines after pleading guilty Friday to charges its two Wyoming wind farms violated the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
The settlement negotiated by Duke Energy Renewables and the U.S. Department of Justice represents the first time the Obama administration has charged a wind producer for killing birds protected under federal law.
The Justice Department brought the case after learning 14 golden eagles and 149 other protected species were killed at the Top of the World and Campbell Hill wind farms near Casper between 2009 and 2013.
“In this plea agreement, Duke Energy Renewables acknowledges that it constructed these wind projects in a manner it knew beforehand would likely result in avian deaths,” Robert G. Dreher, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environmental Natural Resources Division, said in a prepared statement.
The company did take steps to minimize avian deaths once the respective projects came on line and the number of birds killed climbed, Dreher said.
As part of the deal struck between Duke and the Justice Department, the wind company will equip its turbines with new radar technology, employ biologists and limit production during times of high eagle flight activity. The goal is to curtail the number of eagle deaths at the two Converse County wind farms. The company will spend $600,000 implementing the compliance plan and must apply for a Programmatic Eagle Take Permit for each facility within 24 months.
“Our goal is to provide the benefits of wind energy in the most environmentally responsible way possible,” Greg Wolf, president of Duke Energy Renewables, said in a prepared statement. “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.”
The radar technology used to monitor incoming eagles at the wind facilities was developed in Afghanistan to monitor incoming missiles, Duke said. The radar will be augmented by biologists, who will shut down turbines if eagles are seen in the area.
The other measures taken by the company include removing rock and debris piles that attract eagle prey, instituting a migratory bird training program for wind technicians and developing a system to track any finding related to bird populations near the sites.
The company will pay a $400,000 fine that will go to the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund. It will pay $100,000 in restitution to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and make a $106,000 payment National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Conservation Foundation, the Justice Department said.
Campbell Hill has 66 turbines, which produce 99 megawatts of power. Top of the World has 110 turbines and produces 200 megawatts of power.
Hawks, blackbirds, larks, wrens and sparrows were among the 149 species killed at Campbell Hill and Top of the World.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act, enacted in 1918, prohibits unauthorized killing of more than 1,000 avian species. Wind developers are required to prove proposed sites will not have an adverse impact on wildlife.