Fourteen golden eagles and 149 other birds, including hawks, blackbirds, larks, wrens and sparrows were discovered dead at the Campbell Hill and Top of the World wind projects in Converse County, Wyoming between 2009 and 2013. The two wind projects are comprised of 176 large wind turbines.

According to papers filed with the U.S. District Court for Wyoming, wind turbines can cause the deaths of birds in four primary ways: collision with wind turbines, collision with associated meteorological towers, collision with, or electrocution by, associated electrical power facilities, and nest abandonment or behavior avoidance from habitat modification. 

In a criminal information, Duke Energy Renewables Inc., a subsidiary of Duke Energy Corp., was charged with violating the 1915 era federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act in connection with the deaths of federally protected birds at the two of the company wind projects in Wyoming.

Duke Energy plead guilty on November 23, 2013 to 2 misdemeanor counts. “This case represents the first criminal conviction under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for unlawful avian takings at wind projects,” said Robert G. Dreher, an Acting Assistant Attorney General.

As part of the plea agreement, a $400,000 fine will be directed to the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund. The company will also pay $100,000 in restitution to the State of Wyoming, and perform community service by making a $160,000 payment to the congressionally chartered National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Duke Energy is also required to contribute $340,000 to a conservation fund for the purchase of land, or conservation easements on land, in Wyoming containing high use golden eagle habitat. The company must apply for take permits and implement a migratory bird compliance plan containing specific measures to avoid and minimize avian wildlife mortalities at company’s four wind projects in Wyoming.

Traditional power companies have long been cited for avian takings and this case represents the first ever criminal conviction for avian takings at a wind project; a significant leveling of the playing field, but still bad public policy if the aim is to save planet earth.

As we suggested in our earlier blog post, Comment on a Permit to Kill Eagles with Wind Turbines, perhaps it is time to reevaluate the 1915 era Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Certainly the drafters of that treaty almost 100 years ago could not have contemplated today’s environmental industrial complex and prosecution of power generators, renewable or otherwise, under the treaty is simply not efficacious.

Photo by Aaron Murray courtesy WMBD