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Wind Company Convicted in Deaths of Eagles, Other Birds

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Wind turbines near Medicine Bow, Wyoming | Photo: Wyoming Jackrabbit/Flickr/Creative Commons License

A Portland-based wind energy company that recently sued the federal government to keep its bird death data secret has been convicted in federal court over deaths of protected birds at two of its wind facilities in Wyoming.

The carcasses of 38 golden eagles were found at PacifiCorp Energy's "Seven Mile Hill" and "Glenrock/Rolling Hills" installations in Carbon and Converse counties between 2009 and this year, along with 336 other birds protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, PacificCorp disregarded risk to eagles and other birds when it built its turbines at the two facilities.

"PacifiCorp Energy built two of its Wyoming wind projects in a manner it knew would likely result in the deaths of eagles and other protected birds," said Sam Hirsch, the U.S Department of Justice's Acting Assistant Attorney General for Environment and Natural Resources.

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Earlier this year PacifiCorp filed suit in Federal District Court in Utah to keep USFWS from releasing data on bird mortalities at its 13 wind facilities, claiming the information was proprietary. Energy produced by the 237 wind turbines at Seven Mile Hill and Glenrock/Rolling Hills is consumed by customers of PacifiCorp's affiliated utility Pacific Power, including Californians in Del Norte, Modoc, Shasta, and Siskiyou counties.

USFWS officials say that PacificCorp, which pled guilty Friday to charges of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, has been cooperating with investigators. The company has agreed to apply for eagle take permits under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and will be paying $2.5 million in fines and "community service" mitigation payments.

The company will also be obliged to draft a mitigation plan to reduce the risk to birds from Seven Mile Hill, Glenrock/Rolling Hills, and two other Wyoming wind facilities.

"Improperly sited and operated wind energy facilities can kill significant numbers of federally protected birds and other species," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, urging developers to follow the Service's Land-based Wind Energy Guidelines. "That's why it's imperative that wind energy developers work with the Fish and Wildlife Service to minimize these impacts at every stage in the process."

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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