ESI Energy’s wind turbines killed more than 100 eagles

An American wind energy company has admitted killing at least 150 bald eagles and golden eagles, most of whom were fatally struck by wind turbine blades, federal prosecutors said.

ESI Energy on Tuesday pleaded guilty to three counts of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) after eagles died at three of its facilities in Wyoming and New Mexico, according to a Justice Department statement.

The MBTA prohibits the killing, capturing, or transporting of protected migratory bird species without a permit.

“For more than a decade, ESI has violated these laws by taking Adler without obtaining or even applying for the necessary permit,” Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Division of Environment and Natural Resources said in the statement.

As part of a plea agreement, ESI was sentenced to a fine of more than $8 million and restitution and five years’ probation. The company has also agreed to implement measures worth up to $27 million to minimize future injuries and deaths to eagles, prosecutors said, without explaining what that would mean.

Prosecutors said ESI will pay $29,623 for each bald eagle or golden eagle killed by its turbine blades going forward.

The company has three years to apply for permits for any unavoidable killing of eagles, the statement said.

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Court documents show that in March 2019, shortly after ESI decided to construct wind turbines in Converse County, Wyo, the US Fish and Wildlife Service found that up to 44 golden eagles and 23 bald eagles could collide with a turbine blade within the first five years .

ESI pushed ahead with the construction, the court filings say.

ESI has now acknowledged that at least 150 bald and golden eagles have died at 50 of its 154 wind farms over the past decade and that 136 of the deaths occurred when the birds flew into a turbine blade, prosecutors said.

Rebecca Kujawa, president of ESI’s parent company NextEra, has criticized the government’s enforcement policies, saying some animal deaths from wind turbines are “inevitable”.

“The reality of building any structure, driving a vehicle, or flying an airplane presents the possibility of accidental collisions with eagles and other birds as a result of this activity,” Kujawa said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, in defiance of many states and a number of federal court decisions, the federal government has attempted to criminalize unavoidable accidents involving bird collisions with wind turbines, while at the same time failing to address other activities that result in far greater numbers of accidental fatalities of eagles and other birds.”

ESI and NextEra did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Washington Post on Saturday.

The bald eagle, which has been the national bird of the United States since the late 17th century, was removed from the endangered species list in 2007. However, it still faces a number of threats and remains protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the bald eagle Golden Eagle Protection Act, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Such threats include collisions with man-made structures and vehicles, poisoning, electrocution and illegal gunshots, among others, the agency said.

Wind turbines are a known killer of numerous bird species, including eagles. At their tips, the blades can spin at up to 200 miles per hour. Research shows that between 140,000 and 328,000 birds are killed on monopole turbines in the United States each year, with the taller the turbines, the higher the risk of death.

In 2017, a group at Oregon State University announced they were working to make wind turbines safer for eagles by using cameras to detect if one was approaching the wings and, if so, triggering a deterrent by detecting them colorful replicas of people used to make them walk the other way.

“When we hit an ordinary bird, sad as that is, it’s not as critical as hitting a protected golden eagle,” said Roberto Albertani, associate professor of mechanical engineering at the university, in a statement at the time. That, he said, “would cause the shutdown of a wind farm for a period of time, a fine for the operator, large losses in revenue and most importantly, the loss of a member of a protected species.”

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