ESI Energy wind turbines have killed more than 100 eagles

A US wind energy company has admitted killing at least 150 bald and golden eagles, most of whom were fatally hit by wind turbine blades, federal prosecutors said.

ESI Energy pleaded guilty Tuesday to three counts of violating the Migratory Birds Treaty Act (MBTA) after eagles died at three of its facilities in Wyoming and New Mexico, according to a statement from the Ministry of Justice.

The MBTA prohibits killing, capturing or transporting protected migratory bird species without a permit.

“For more than a decade, ESI has violated these laws, taking eagles without obtaining or even applying for the necessary permit,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Division. Justice in the release.

As part of a plea deal, ESI was sentenced to more than $8 million in fines and restitution and five years probation. The company also agreed to implement up to $27 million in measures to minimize future eagle injuries and deaths, prosecutors said without specifying what that would entail.

Prosecutors said ESI would pay $29,623 for each bald or golden eagle killed by its turbine blades in the future.

The company has three years to apply for permits for any unavoidable eagle culling, the statement said.

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Court documents show that in March 2019, shortly after ESI decided to build wind farms in Converse County, Wyo., the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service warned that there was an “unusually large number high” number of golden eagle nests in the area and discouraged construction, noting that up to 44 golden eagles and 23 bald eagles could collide with a turbine blade in the first five years.

ESI continued construction, according to court records.

ESI has since acknowledged that at least 150 bald and golden eagles have died at 50 of its 154 wind farms over the past decade and that 136 of the fatalities occurred when the birds flew into a turbine blade, said the prosecutors.

Rebecca Kujawa, president of ESI’s parent company NextEra, criticized the government’s enforcement policy, saying some animal deaths are “inevitable” with wind turbines.

“The reality is that building any structure, driving any vehicle, or flying any aircraft carries a possibility that accidental collisions of eagles and other birds may occur as a result of this activity” , Kujawa said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, the federal government, in disagreement with many states and a number of federal court rulings, has sought to criminalize the inevitable accidents related to bird collisions with wind turbines while failing to address others. activities that result in a much higher number of accidental mortalities of eagles and other birds.

ESI and NextEra did not immediately respond to a Washington Post request for comment on Saturday.

The bald eagle, which has been the national bird of the United States since the late 1700s, was removed from the endangered species list in 2007. But it still faces a number of threats and remains protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. These threats include, among others, collisions with man-made structures and vehicles, poisoning, electrocution and unlawful shooting, the agency said.

Wind turbines are known to kill many species of birds, including eagles. At their tips, the blades can spin up to 200 mph. Research shows that between 140,000 and 328,000 birds are killed each year in monopole turbines in the United States, with an increased risk of death the taller the turbines.

In 2017, a group at Oregon State University announced that it was working to make wind turbines safer for eagles, using cameras to determine if one is approaching the blades and, if it is the case, triggering a deterrent using brightly colored facsimiles of people to make them leave. the other side.

“If we hit a generic bird, sad as that is, it’s not as critical as hitting a protected golden eagle,” Roberto Albertani, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the university, said in a statement to the ‘era. This, he said, “would lead to the shutdown of a wind farm for a period of time, a fine for the operator, big loss of income and, above all, the loss of a member of a species. protected”.

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