A unit of NextEra Energy has been fined and placed on probation by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in connection with golden eagles killed by wind turbine blades.
ESI Energy pled guilty to three misdemeanor counts of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The plea followed the documented deaths of golden eagles due to blunt force trauma. Justice said the incidents occurred at a facility in Wyoming or New Mexico where the company had not applied for necessary permits.Golden eagle (Courtesy: Syed Ahmad/Unsplash)
In total, at least 150 golden eagles have died at ESI Energy wind farms since 2012, DOJ said; 136 bird deaths have been linked to wind turbine blade strikes.
As part of the settlement announced on April 5, ESI Energy was fined $1.8 million and must pay $6.2 million in restitution.
The company also is under five years of probation and must implement an Eagle Management Plan (EMP) to minimize additional eagle deaths and injuries. The EMP can require an investment of up to $27 million for compensatory mitigation, DOJ said.
Edward Grace, assistant director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Assistant Office of Law Enforcement, said the settlement holds ESI accountable for "years of unwillingness to work collaboratively" with the agency and for "their blatant disregard of wildlife laws."
In a statement, NextEra criticized the DOJ's enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It said the agency "has sought to criminalize unavoidable accidents."
"The reality is building any structure, driving any vehicle, or flying any airplane carries with it a possibility that accidental eagle and other bird collisions may occur as a result of that activity," NextEra Energy Resources president and CEO Rebecca Kujawa said.
Kujawa defended NextEra's investments in avian mitigation efforts and said the settlement with DOJ was the "most expedient solution" to the dispute, allowing the company to focus on developing more wind farms.
NextEra's position remains that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act covers intentional, not accidental, acts against wildlife.
Jared Wigginton, an environmental and energy attorney, said the DOJ-NextEra settlement highlights a broken system for enforcing the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which NextEra is also alleged to have violated. NextEra with its size and market share was a likely target of DOJ's enforcement activities, even as other companies also fail to obtain eagle take permits, he said.
"Companies would rather roll the dice on potential enforcement actions than go through the costly and painstaking process of obtaining and complying with eagle take permits under Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act," Wigginton told Renewable Energy World. "I wouldn’t be surprised if there are other big players in DOJ’s crosshairs right now."
Last October, Wigginton wrote in Renewable Energy World about the lack of an incidental take program under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.