Wind power company pays $8 million to kill 150 vultures

Federal prosecutors said a wind power company last week pleaded guilty to killing at least 150 vultures at its wind farms and was ordered to pay $8 million in fines and damages.

The company, ESI Energy, a wholly owned subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources, was also sentenced to five years in prison, during which it must follow the Eagle Management Plan, after pleading guilty Tuesday to three counts of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

ESI has acknowledged that at least 150 bald and golden eagles have died at its facilities since 2012, and that 136 of those deaths “have been determined with certainty to be attributable to an eagle being hit by a wind turbine blade,” the Justice Department said in a statement. .

The Justice Department said the deaths occurred at 50 of the 154 wind farms the company operates in the United States.

The Justice Department said the company failed to take steps to protect vultures or obtain necessary permits when vultures’ deaths were documented or anticipated. Prosecutors said the failure to take these steps meant that ESI “gained a competitive advantage”.

“This prosecution and the compensation you will secure will protect the vital and ecologically vital natural resources of our bald eagle and golden eagle populations,” Philip A. Talbert, US Attorney for the Eastern District of California, said in a statement.

Rebecca Kugawa, President of NextEra, said in a statement that she disagrees with the federal government’s application of the policy because “the reality is that building any structure, driving any vehicle, or flying any aircraft carries with it the possibility that accidental eagle and other bird collisions may occur as a result of this activity.”

“We have a long-standing reputation for protecting our environment and positively coexisting with wildlife around our facilities,” said Ms. Kogawa. “We have never located a wind turbine knowing an eagle is going to fly into it, and we have never taken any action in disregard of federal law.”

Prosecutors said the company agreed to spend up to $27 million on measures to “reduce additional deaths and injuries to the vultures.” Stephen Stengel, a spokesperson for NextEra, said there were no specifics yet on how the money would be spent.

The case comes as the bald eagle, a symbol of a nation whose resurgence is one of the 21st century’s greatest conservation stories, faces a new threat: lead poisoning.

All but a few hundred bald eagles were assumed to have died by the mid-20th century, and were largely killed by the widespread use of the synthetic insecticide DDT. The ban on DDT in 1972 and conservation efforts helped the population’s recovery. The bald eagle was removed from the Endangered Species Act in 2007 and its estimated population had grown to 316,700 by 2019.

But this year researchers found that of the 1,200 vultures they tested, nearly half were repeatedly exposed to lead, which can lead to death and slow population growth. Scientists believe the primary source of lead is ammunition used by hunters, who shoot animals that vultures then hunt.

Conserving eagles has become a “difficult situation,” said Julia Bonder, a professor and associate dean at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, whose research focuses on raptor medicine and surgery.

“I’d love it if it were black and white,” she said, “but it’s not.”

She said that while wind turbines can harm eagles and other birds, they are also an alternative and cleaner form of energy than fossil fuels that contribute to global warming.

Professor Bonder said the heads of wind turbine blades can spin at around 200 miles per hour, fast enough to kill any bird instantly.

A 2013 study found that between 140,000 and 328,000 birds are killed each year in the United States in monopolar turbines.

Roberto Albertani, a professor of mechanical engineering at Oregon State University, said in 2017 that he and his team devised a system aimed at making wind turbines safer for vultures.

He advocated the use of cameras to determine if birds were approaching the blades, causing inflatable tubes to be launched on the ground, or “wind dancer” characters, such as those often seen at car dealerships, to scare the birds away, as Professor Albertani said in a public presentation. the past.

He said the Eagles seemed “annoyed by the anthropomorphic figures”.

Prof Bonder said some researchers are looking at using acoustic signals to keep birds away from the turbines. Others are working on detection systems that would shut down turbines when vultures approach — a measure that can be effective, but expensive, for energy companies.

“These are really complicated questions,” she said. “And we have to work on finding the right questions to ask, and the answers to them.”

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