A US wind energy company has pleaded guilty to death of eagles which were hit by blades of wind turbines.
ESI pleaded guilty to three counts of violating the the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), each based on the documented deaths of golden eagles due to blunt force trauma from being struck by a wind turbine blade at a particular facility in Wyoming or New Mexico, where ESI had not applied for the necessary permits, according to a Department of Justice release.
ESI acknowledged that at least 150 bald and golden eagles have died in total since 2012, across 50 of its 154 wind energy facilities. 136 of those deaths have been affirmatively determined to be attributable to the eagle being struck by a wind turbine blade.
The court sentenced ESI, pursuant to a plea agreement, to a fine of $1,861,600, restitution in the amount of $6,210,991, and a five-year period of probation during which it must follow an Eagle Management Plan (EMP).
The EMP requires implementation of up to $27 million (during the period of probation; more thereafter if a written extension is signed) of measures intended to minimize additional eagle deaths and injuries, and payment of compensatory mitigation for future eagle deaths and injuries of $29,623 per bald or golden eagle.
ESI also must over the next 36 months apply for permits for any unavoidable take of eagles at each of 50 of its facilities where take is documented or, in the case of four facilities not yet operational, predicted.
The MBTA prohibits the “taking” of migratory birds, including bald and golden eagles, without a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of the Department of the Interior. “Take” is defined by regulation to mean “to pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect” or to attempt to do so.
Bald and golden eagles are also protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (the Eagle Act).
According to the information filed in this case, ESI and its affiliates deliberately elected not to apply for or obtain any eagle take permits (ETPs) intended to ensure the preservation of bald and golden eagles, and instead chose to construct and operate facilities it knew would take eagles, and in fact took eagles, without any permits authorizing that take.
Because ESI did not seek any ETPs, it avoided any immediate federal obligation to avoid and minimize eagle take to the maximum degree practicable and to pay for compensatory mitigation for the eagle deaths.
ESI is a wholly owned subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources LLC, which in turn is a wholly owned subsidiary of NextEra Energy Inc. ESI owns other companies, many of which operate wind energy generation facilities throughout the United States, including in Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, North Dakota and Michigan.