FRISCO – A Portland, Oregon-based wind energy company operating in Wyoming will pay fines, restitution and community service totaling $2.5 million for the death of protected birds at wind turbine facilities in Carbon and Converse Counties. The two wind projects are comprised of 237 large wind turbines sited on private and company-owned land.
PacifiCorp Energy, a subsidiary of PacifiCorp, Oregon, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Wyoming to violating the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The company is also on a five-year probation and must implement an environmental compliance plan aimed at preventing bird deaths at the company’s four commercial wind projects in the state.
“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, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “PacifiCorp has taken steps to minimize the hazard, and with this plea agreement has committed to a comprehensive plan to continue such efforts in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to seek eagle take permits for each project, and to work to prevent future eagle deaths.”
The charges stem from the discovery of the carcasses of 38 golden eagles and 336 other protected birds, including hawks, blackbirds, larks, wrens and sparrows by the company at its Seven Mile Hill and Glenrock/Rolling Hills wind projects.
In documents presented in court, the government alleged that PacifiCorp Energy failed to make all reasonable efforts to build the projects in a way that would avoid the risk of avian deaths by collision with turbine blades, despite prior guidance from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. However, the company cooperated with the FWS investigation and has already implemented measures aimed at minimizing avian deaths at the sites.
“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.”
Commercial wind power projects can cause the deaths of federally protected birds in four primary ways: collision with wind turbines, collision with associated meteorological towers, collision with, or electrocution by, associated electrical power facilities, and nest abandonment or behavior avoidance from habitat modification.
Collision and electrocution risks from power lines (collisions and electrocutions) and guyed structures (collision) have been known to the utility and communication industries for decades, and specific methods of minimizing and avoiding the risks have been developed, in conjunction with the FWS.
The $400,000 fine imposed in the case will be directed to the federally-administered North American Wetlands Conservation Fund. The company will also pay $200,000 in restitution to the State of Wyoming, and perform community service by making a $1.9 million payment to the congressionally-chartered National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, designated for projects aimed at preserving golden eagles and increasing the understanding of ways to minimize and monitor interactions between eagles and commercial wind power facilities, as well as enhance eagle rehabilitation and conservation efforts in Wyoming.
The company must implement a migratory bird compliance plan containing specific measures to avoid and minimize golden eagle and other avian wildlife mortalities at the company’s four commercial wind projects in Wyoming.
According to papers filed with the court, PacifiCorp will spend approximately $600,000 per year implementing the compliance plan. The company must also apply to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a Programmatic Eagle Take Permit at each of the four wind projects cited in the case.
The case was investigated by Special Agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and prosecuted by Senior Counsel Robert S. Anderson of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Conder of the District of Wyoming.
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