The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has reached a settlement agreement with the renewables unit of Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK) over misdemeanor charges involving golden eagle deaths at two Duke wind power sites in Wyoming.
Duke Energy Renewables announced the settlement in a Nov. 22 news release. Duke agreed to pay $1m and take steps to avoid future golden eagle deaths.
It was part of a plea agreement that came as Duke pleaded guilty to violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) in U.S. District Court in Wyoming, Justice said in its own announcement.
The DOJ brought misdemeanor charges under the MBTA for 14 golden eagle mortalities within the past three years at Duke Energy’s Top of the World Windpower Project and Campbell Hill Windpower Project near Casper, Wyo.
Golden eagles are not listed as threatened or endangered under U.S. law. However, they are protected under the MBTA.
Federal fines and restitution of $1 million will be levied against Duke Energy Renewables. These funds will be dispersed to the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund, the Wyoming Game & Fish Department, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and The Conservation Fund.
The company is also required to apply for an Eagle Take Permit, the Justice Dept. said.
“We have always self reported all incidents, and from the time we discovered the first fatality, we’ve been working closely with the Fish and Wildlife Service to take proactive steps to correct the problem,” said Duke Energy Renewables President Greg Wolf.
The corrective steps include:
•Installing and testing new radar technology to assist in the detection of airborne eagles on or near the site, which was developed from the same technology used in Afghanistan to monitor incoming missiles
•Instituting a curtailment program using field biologists, who radio for turbines to be temporarily shut down upon sighting an eagle in the vicinity
•Further curtailing turbines during periods of high eagle flight activity
•Instituting migratory bird training programs for wind technicians and developing a reporting system to track any findings related to avian populations on the sites
•Removing rock and debris piles that attract eagle prey
•Continuing to voluntarily report to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) all eagle and migratory bird mortalities and meeting with the agency regularly to discuss adaptive management measures to reduce avian mortality.
“Top of the World and Campbell Hill were some of the first wind sites we brought into service, during a period when our company’s and the wind industry’s understanding of eagle impacts at wind farms was still evolving,” said Tim Hayes, environmental development director at Duke Energy Renewables. “The development of these sites from 2007 to 2009 was before the release of the USFWS wind energy guidelines or its eagle conservation plan guidance.
GenerationHub records show Top of the World being a 200-MW project in Glenrock, Wyo. It is connected to the PacifiCorp transmission system. Campbell Hill is listed with a capacity of 99 MW. It is also located in Glenrock and connected to the PacifiCorp grid.
Justice: Duke could have done more to prevent avian deaths
According to the charges and other information presented in court, Duke Energy Renewables Inc. 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 Fish & Wildlife Service, Justice said.
“This case represents the first criminal conviction under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for unlawful avian takings at wind projects,” said Robert G. Dreher, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
“In this plea agreement, Duke Energy Renewables acknowledges that it constructed these wind projects in a manner it knew beforehand would likely result in avian deaths. To its credit, once the projects came on line and began causing avian deaths, Duke took steps to minimize the hazard, and with this plea agreement has committed to an extensive compliance plan to minimize bird deaths at its Wyoming facilities and to devote resources to eagle preservation and rehabilitation efforts,” Dreher said.
According to papers filed with the court, commercial wind power projects can cause the deaths of federally protected 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.
Collision and electrocution risks from power lines (collisions and electrocutions) and guyed structures (collision) have been known to the utility and communication industries for decades, and specific methods of minimizing and avoiding the risks have been developed, in conjunction with the USFWS.