A renewable-energy company subsidiary pleaded guilty on federal criminal charges Tuesday and ordered to pay $8 million in fines and restitution for killing more than 150 eagles at wind farms in eight states.
In addition ESI Energy, a subsidiary of renewables giant NextEra Energy, received five years of probation on three counts of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act stemming from the deaths of nine eagles in wind farms in Wyoming and New Mexico. Golden and bald eagles at 50 wind farms affiliated with the two companies have died since 2012 in Wyoming, California, New Mexico, North Dakota, Colorado, Michigan, Arizona and Illinois.
Most of the birds had been hit by wind turbine blades, according to prosecutors, with some killing multiple eagles. The 150 eagles whose deaths were cited in court documents were just the ones they had known about, officials said, since the carcasses are not always found.
Some bird deaths are inevitable in wind turbines, and companies can take measures to prevent such deaths and apply for permits to allow for some bird death. ESI did not apply for such permits in the cases they were charged with.
The company did not know it had to seek permits for unintentional bird deaths, NextEra spokesperson Steven Stengel maintained. He said the guilty plea will put to rest all allegations about previous fatalities so the company can move forward, The Associated Press said.
One of those non-permitted places was in Wyoming, where golden eagles died and where the company failed to get permits that would have mitigated or prevented the damage, or at the very least accounted for it.
According to the charging documents obtained by The Associated Press, company officials and leadership were warned that locating two wind farms in central and southeastern Wyoming and repowering a New Mexico wind farm about 170 miles from Albuquerque would kill eagles.
ESI not only ignored that advice but also dismissed federal wildlife officials’ suggestions on how to minimize the deaths, the AP reported.
“For more than a decade, ESI has violated those laws, taking eagles without obtaining or even seeking the necessary permit,” Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division said in a Justice Department statement. “We are pleased to see ESI now commit to seeking such permits and ultimately ceasing such violations.”
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