A wind energy company has been fined more than $8 million after at least 150 eagles were killed at a number of its wind farms.
After pleading guilty to three counts of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, NextEra Energy – a subsidiary of ESI Energy, one of the largest US providers of renewable energy – was ordered to pay millions in fines and restitution and also sentenced to five years’ probation.
The charges arose from the fatalities of nine eagles at three wind farms in Wyoming and New Mexico, but NextEra Energy also acknowledged the deaths of golden and bald eagles at 50 wind farms over the past 10 years.
Prosecutors said almost all of the eagles that were killed at the wind company’s facilities had been struck by the blades of the wind turbines, with some killing multiple birds.
However, officials said that as the carcasses are not always found, the number killed was likely higher than the 150 cited in court documents – the majority of which were golden eagles.
According to the Associated Press, prosecutors said NextEra’s failure to take steps to protect eagles or to obtain permits to kill the birds gave it an advantage over competitors that followed such steps, even though ESI and other NextEra affiliates received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal tax credits from the wind power the farms produced.
Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division said in a statement: "For more than a decade, ESI has violated (wildlife) laws, taking eagles without obtaining or even seeking the necessary permit.”
Under a plea deal, ESI agreed that it would use the five-year probationary period to spend up to $27 million on measures to prevent any further eagle deaths happening in the future.
However, as wildlife officials fear that some birds still could die in spite of this, the company will now have to pay $29,623 per dead eagle.
NextEra President Rebecca Kujawa said birds colliding with wind turbines are unavoidable accidents, and that they should not be criminalised. Claiming the company is committed to reducing damage to wildlife from its projects, she added in a statement: "We disagree with the government's underlying enforcement activity.
"Building any structure, driving any vehicle, or flying any airplane carries with it a possibility that accidental eagle and other bird collisions may occur."