Duke Energy Renewables to Pay $1M Penalty for Wind Farm Bird Deaths

turbineDuke Energy Renewables, a part of Duke Energy, announced it reached a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for $1 million over the deaths of golden eagles and other migratory birds at two of the company’s wind power generation sites in Wyoming. The DOJ filed misdemeanor charges under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) for 14 golden eagle mortalities within the last three years at Duke Energy’s Top of the World Windpower Project and Campbell Hill Windpower Project near Casper, Wyoming. Both wind power projects are made up of 176 large wind turbines located on private agricultural land. Over 1,000 bird species are protected under the MBTA, which was enacted in 1918. The case is the first criminal enforcement of the MBTA for bird deaths at wind projects. Although golden eagles are not listed as endangered or threatened, they are protected under the MBTA.

The company must pay fines, complete restitution and community service totaling $1 million, and faces five years of probation. During that time, it is required to implement an environmental compliance plan to prevent bird deaths at its four commercial wind projects in Wyoming. Duke will spend approximately $600,000 a year to implement the compliance plan. In addition, the company is required to apply for an Eagle Take Permit within 24 months, and if it’s granted, it will “provide a framework for minimizing and mitigating the deaths of golden eagles at the wind projects,” according to a DOJ statement.

The payments for the $1 million in fines breaks down this way:

  • $400,000 will go to the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund, which is federally directed
  • $100,000 will be paid to the State of Wyoming
  • $160,000 will be paid to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
  • $340,000 to a conservation fund

Studies find wind power causes bird deaths, but fossil fuel power causes many more

Several studies released this year found that wind farms are responsible for bird deaths. A study by The Wildlife Society, released last spring, reviewed reports of fatality monitoring at wind energy projects throughout North America. The study estimated that there have been 888,000 bat and 573,000 bird deaths a year at 51,630 megawatt (MW) of installed wind-energy capacity in the U.S. in 2012.

Another study, published in January, of wind farms estimated that they are responsible for 0.3 fatalities per gigawatt-hour (GWh) of power, or approximately 20,000 birds in 2009. However, the study found that fossil fuel-powered stations are responsible for about 5.2 fatalities per GWh, or 14 million. The study concluded that “fossil fueled power stations appear to pose a much greater threat to birds and avian wildlife than wind farms.”

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) pointed out in a statement on the case that experts view “climate change as the single greatest threat to wildlife and their habitats.” Since wind power is produced without creating greenhouse gas emissions, it is a “key to both meeting our nation’s energy needs and protecting wildlife in the US and abroad.” Indeed, wind power is a key part of fighting climate change and mitigating its damage. Clearly, Duke is taking responsibility for the impacts to wildlife. The case will surely serve as a warning to other companies to plan better to avoid or reduce impacts to wildlife.

Photo: K Ali

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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