United States

United States

NextEra hit with $8m fine over wind farm bird deaths

Developer’s subsidiary found to have gained unfair competitive advantage by failing to adhere to eagle protection legislation

An adult bald eagle (pic credit: USFWS Pacific Southwest)
An adult bald eagle (pic credit: USFWS Pacific Southwest)

NextEra Energy Resources’ subsidiary ESI Energy Inc. (ESI) has been sentenced to a fine of more than $1.8 million, restitution of $6.2 million and five-year probation after at least 150 bald eagles died at 50 of its US wind farms.

The cases were brought in Wyoming following the documented deaths of golden eagles due to blunt force trauma from being struck by wind turbine blades at facilities where ESI had not applied for the necessary permits. They were brought in connection with three breaches of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).

The MBTA prohibits the “taking” of migratory birds, including bald and golden eagles, without a permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) of the Department of the Interior. “Take” is defined by regulation to mean “to pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect” — or to attempt to do so.

ESI further acknowledged that at least 150 bald and golden eagles have died in total since 2012, across 50 of its 154 wind energy facilities, with 136 of those deaths attributable to the eagle being struck by a wind turbine blade.

“The Justice Department will enforce the nation’s wildlife laws to promote Congress’s purposes, including ensuring sustainable populations of bald and golden eagles, and to promote fair competition for companies that comply,” said assistant attorney general Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s environment and natural resources division. 

“For more than a decade, ESI has violated those laws, taking eagles without obtaining or even seeking the necessary permit. We are pleased to see ESI now commit to seeking such permits and ultimately ceasing such violations,” he added. 

After pleading guilty to the charges, ESI was sentenced to a fine of $1,861,600, restitution of $6,210,991, and a five-year period of probation during which it must follow an Eagle Management Plan (EMP).

The EMP requires ESI to implement measures to minimise additional eagle deaths and injuries – for which it must pay up to $27 million –  and payment of compensatory mitigation for future eagle deaths and injuries of $29,623 per bald or golden eagle.  

Over the next three years, ESI also must apply for permits for any unavoidable take of eagles at each of 50 of its facilities where take is documented or predicted.

Bald and golden eagles are also protected under the so-called Eagle Act, which prohibits killing and wounding eagles without a permit from USFWS. 

According to court documents, ESI’s conduct is understood to have violated both the Eagle Act and the MBTA, but the government accepted the company’s guilty plea to only MBTA counts due to ESI’s agreement to apply for permits at 50 facilities and its prior efforts to minimise and mitigate eagle deaths.

Other wind energy companies altered proposed operations as required to avoid and minimise take levels, applied for eagle take permits (ETPs) and/or paid mitigation for eagle takings. By not doing so, the court found, ESI gained a competitive advantage relative to other wind developers.

Among the wind farms mentioned in the court case are Wyoming’s 225MW Roundhouse Roundhouse (225MW) OnshoreLaramie County, Wyoming, USA, North America Click to see full details200MW Cedar Springs I Cedar Springs I (200MW) OnshoreDouglas, Converse County, Wyoming, USA, North America Click to see full details200MW Cedar Springs II Cedar Springs II (200MW) OnshoreDouglas, Converse County, Wyoming, USA, North America Click to see full details and 120MW Cedar Springs III Cedar Springs III (120MW) OnshoreDouglas, Converse County, Wyoming, USA, North America Click to see full details projects.

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