Federal prosecutors said a wind power company pleaded guilty to killing at least 150 eagles at its wind farms last week and ordered to pay $8 million in fines and restitution.
The company, ESI Energy, a wholly owned subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources, was also sentenced to five years of probation, during which it was convicted on Tuesday of three counts of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of Eagle Management Plan. have to follow.
The Justice Department said in a statement that ESI acknowledged that at least 150 bald and golden eagles had been killed since 2012, and that 136 of those deaths were “positively thought to be due to an eagle being struck by a wind turbine blade.” because of it”. ,
The Justice Department said the deaths occurred in 50 of the 154 wind farms the company operates in the United States.
The Justice Department said the company failed to take steps to protect the eagles or obtain permits when the eagle’s death is documented or predicted. By not taking these steps, prosecutors said, ESI had “gained a competitive advantage.”
“This prosecution and the restoration it seeks will protect the ecologically important and majestic natural resources of our bald eagle and golden eagle populations,” Philip A. Talbert, US attorney for the Eastern District of California, said in a statement.
NextEra President Rebecca Kuzawa said in a statement that she disagrees with the federal government’s implementation of the policy because “the reality is building any structure, driving any vehicle, or flying any airplane.” “There is a possibility that accidental eagles and other birds may have collided as a result of that activity.”
“We have a long and well-earned reputation for protecting our environment and for positively coexisting and supporting wildlife around our facilities,” said Ms. Kuzawa. “And we have never installed a wind turbine knowing that an eagle would fly in it, nor have we taken any action in defiance of federal law.”
Prosecutors said the company agreed to spend up to $27 million on measures to “mitigate additional eagle deaths and injuries.” NextEra spokesman Steven Stengel said there were no specific details yet on how that money would be spent.
The case comes as the bald eagle, the country’s symbol whose resurrection is considered one of the biggest conservation stories of the 21st century, faces a new threat: lead poisoning.
Bald eagles were largely killed off decades ago by the widespread use of the synthetic pesticide DDT. DDT’s ban and conservation efforts in 1972 helped rejuvenate the population. The bald eagle was removed from Endangered Species Act protection in 2007 and has an estimated population of 316,700 by 2019.
But researchers found this year that about half of the 1,200 eagles they tested had been repeatedly exposed to lead, which can lead to death and slow population growth. Scientists believe the primary source of lead comes from ammunition used by hunters, who shoot animals that eagles then chase away.
Protecting eagles has become a “challenging situation,” especially when it comes to wind turbines, said Julia Ponder, a professor and associate dean in the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota, whose research focuses on raptor medicine and surgery.
“I would love it if it were black and white, but it’s not,” she said.
Wind turbines can harm eagles and other birds, but they are also an alternative form of energy that is cleaner than fossil fuels, which are contributing to the warming of the planet, she said.
Professor Ponder said the tips of the wind turbine’s blades can spin at about 200 mph, enough to kill any bird instantly.
A 2013 study found that between 140,000 and 328,000 birds are killed each year in monopole turbines in the United States.
Roberto Albertani, a professor of mechanical engineering at Oregon State University, said in 2017 that he and his team had designed a system that sought to make wind turbines safer for eagles.
It called for the use of cameras that would determine when birds were approaching the blade and on-the-ground inflatable tubes, or “wind dancer” figures often seen at car dealerships, to scare the birds away. are triggered, Professor Albertani said. A presentation last year.
Eagles appear to be “annoyed by anthropomorphic figures,” he said.
Professor Ponder said some researchers are using audio signals to keep birds away. Others are working on detection systems that will shut down turbines when Eagle approaches – a measure that could be effective, but costly, for power companies.
“These are really complicated questions,” she said. “And we have to work to find the right questions to ask and the answers to them.”