News Brief

Utility Fined for Eagle Deaths Linked to Wind Turbines

A $1 million fine against Duke Energy reveals that none of the wind utilities have a federal permit to cover protected-bird fatalities.

Duke Energy was fined for killing 14 golden eagles (pictured above) and more than 100 other protected birds, such as hawks, blackbirds, wrens, and sparrows. Although golden eagles are not listed as threatened or endangered, they are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Photo: J. Glover - Atlanta, Georgia. License: CC BY 2.0.
For the first time, a wind energy facility has been prosecuted for killing protected birds. Having reached a settlement agreement, Duke Energy Renewables is to pay $1 million in fines for 14 golden eagles and 149 other protected birds killed between 2009 and 2013 by two of its wind farms outside Casper, Wyoming.

Although research shows that household and feral cats are far more culpable for harming bird populations, wind turbines are especially hazardous for eagles—many of which are federally protected—because eagles do not look up as they hunt their prey on the ground. Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, companies are required to have a federal permit to kill protected birds, but as of yet, no wind energy facilities have obtained a permit, according to the Associated Press—and, until now, no wind facility had been prosecuted.

The court found that Duke Energy failed to build its wind turbines in a way that would prevent avian deaths. The penalty follows other successful litigation against companies that have been fined for environmental harm—BP was fined $100 million after the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and PacifiCorp paid more than $10.5 million in 2009 for electrocuting 232 eagles along power lines—but it may be precedent-setting relative to wind energy. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now investigating 18 other bird-death cases involving wind turbines, and more have been referred to the Department of Justice.

Once a wind facility is constructed, it is difficult to minimize bird fatalities short of closing down. For now, Duke Energy has committed to installing radar technology and employing field biologists who will pause the turbines when eagles are in the vicinity.

Published December 30, 2013

Add new comment

To post a comment, you need to register for a BuildingGreen Basic membership (free) or login to your existing profile.


December 9, 2013 - 1:36 pm

A new federal regulation will extend the permit for the unintentional killing of golden and bald eagles from 5 years to 30 in order to encourage wind utilities to apply for the permit and to provide regulatory certainty.