A Portland, Oregon–based wind-farm company, the second to be sentenced to fines for killing hundreds of protected birds in Wyoming with its turbines, will pay $2.5 million in fines, restitution and community service.
PacifiCorp subsidiary PacifiCorp Energy pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Wyoming on December 19 to violating the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act at two wind projects, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said. Among the dead were 38 golden eagles, and the carcasses—besides the eagles, there were 336 other protected birds—were stashed at the company’s Seven Mile Hill and Glenrock/Rolling Hills wind projects, the justice department said.
Besides the payments, the company has been put on probation for five years, the justice department said in a statement. During that time PacifiCorp Energy must put an environmental compliance plan in place to prevent bird deaths at its four commercial wind projects in Wyoming. In addition, PacifiCorp Energy must apply for Eagle Take Permits that both allow for unavoidable bird deaths and “provide a framework for minimizing and mitigating the deaths of golden eagles at the wind projects,” the DOJ said.
In addition to the golden eagles, hawks, blackbirds, larks, wrens and sparrows had perished in one of the 237 large wind turbines at the two Wyoming facilities between 2009 and 2014, the DOJ said.
“PacifiCorp Energy built two of its Wyoming wind projects in a manner it knew would likely result in the deaths of eagles and other protected birds,” said Sam Hirsch, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, in the statement. “PacifiCorp has taken steps to minimize the hazard, and with this plea agreement has committed to a comprehensive plan to continue such efforts in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to seek eagle take permits for each project, and to work to prevent future eagle deaths.”
The fine, $400,000, will go to the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund, which is administered by the federal government. In addition, the company will pay $200,000 in restitution to Wyoming, as well as perform community service by way of a $1.9 million payment to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, a congressionally chartered organization “designated for projects aimed at preserving golden eagles and increasing the understanding of ways to minimize and monitor interactions between eagles and commercial wind power facilities, as well as enhance eagle rehabilitation and conservation efforts in Wyoming,” the DOJ said.
More than 1,000 bird species are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the DOJ said. When it comes to wind power, it’s especially important to survey area wildlife and determine its patterns and the risk of killing animals before construction begins, the DOJ said. Thus in addition to the payments the company must implement a migratory bird compliance plan that outlines “specific measures to avoid and minimize golden eagle and other avian wildlife mortalities at the company’s four commercial wind projects in Wyoming,” the DOJ said.
PacifiCorp will spend approximately $600,000 annually to implement the compliance plan, the DOJ said, as well as apply to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a Programmatic Eagle Take Permit at each of the four wind projects cited in the case. The company cooperated fully with the investigation as it unfolded, the DOJ said.
PacifiCorp Energy is not the first utility company to be fined for killing birds in Wyoming. A year earlier, Duke Energy Renewables Inc. became the first wind-power company to be found criminally liable under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, paying $1 million in fines and restitution.