Company Pleads Guilty in Eagle Deaths at Wind Energy Facility

A subsidiary of the nation's largest electrical power company was sentenced Friday over deaths of protected birds, including golden eagles, at two of its wind facilities in Wyoming, the Justice Department has announced. Duke Energy Renewables, a division of the North Carolina-based Duke Energy Corporation, must pay fines and penalties and engage in community service for a total cost of $1 million as punishment for the deaths of 14 golden eagles and more than 140 other protected birds at its wind facilities.

The bird deaths took place between 2009 and 2013 at Duke's Top of the World and Campbell Hill wind facilities in Converse County, Wyoming. The sentence marks the first successful prosecution of a wind energy company for violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).

The company pled guilty to charges of violating the MBTA as part of a settlement agreement with the Justice Department. The feds had charged that Duke didn't make reasonable efforts to build its facilities in ways that would minimize the risk to wildlife.

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"Duke Energy Renewables acknowledges that it constructed these wind projects in a manner it knew beforehand would likely result in avian deaths," said the Justice Department's Acting Assistant Attorney General Robert G. Dreher, who heads up the Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "To its credit, once the projects came on line and began causing avian deaths, Duke took steps to minimize the hazard, and with this plea agreement has committed to an extensive compliance plan to minimize bird deaths at its Wyoming facilities and to devote resources to eagle preservation and rehabilitation efforts."

Duke will be paying out $400,000 in fines to the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund and $100,000 in restitution to the State of Wyoming, as well as performing "community service" in the form of a $160,000 donation to a group -- the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation -- that will fund research into the interactions between eagles and wind turbines, and $340,000 to fund preservation of Wyoming eagle habitat.

As part of the terms of its sentence, Duke must create and implement a migratory bird compliance plan intended to reduce willdife moratlities at the wind plants, and the company must also apply for Programmatic Eagle Take Permits for each facility from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"The Service works cooperatively with companies that make all reasonable efforts to avoid killing migratory birds during design, construction and operation of industrial facilities," said William Woody, USFWS's Assistant Director for Law Enforcement. "But we will continue to investigate and refer for prosecution cases in which companies -- in any sector, including the wind industry -- fail to comply with the laws that protect the public's wildlife resources."

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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