Duke Energy Renewables pleaded guilty in US District Court in Wyoming to violating the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act in connection with the deaths of protected birds, including golden eagles, at two of the company’s wind farms in Wyoming. This case represents the first criminal enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for unpermitted avian takings at wind projects.
Under a plea agreement with the government, the company was sentenced to pay fines, restitution and community service totaling $1 million and was placed on probation for five years, during which it must implement an environmental compliance plan aimed at preventing bird deaths at the company’s four commercial wind projects in the state. The company is also required to apply for an Eagle Take Permit, which, if granted, will provide a framework for minimizing the deaths of golden eagles at the wind projects.
The charges stem from the discovery of 14 golden eagles and 149 other protected birds, including hawks, blackbirds, larks, wrens and sparrows by the company at its “Campbell Hill” and “Top of the World” wind projects in Converse County between 2009 and 2013. The two wind projects are comprised of 176 large wind turbines sited on private agricultural land.
According to the charges and other information presented in court, Duke Energy Renewables 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 warnings about this issue from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). However, the company cooperated with the USFWS investigation and has already implemented measures aimed at minimizing avian deaths at the sites.