Wind company pays fine over eagle deaths

A renewable power company has agreed to pay $1 million over the deaths of more than a dozen protected eagles and other birds at its wind farms.

The settlement with Duke Energy is the first time the Obama administration, which has been a strong backer of wind power, has penalized a wind energy company for killing eagles.

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According to the Justice Department’s settlement, announced on Friday, 14 golden eagles and 149 other protected birds were killed at two Duke Energy wind farms in Wyoming within the last three years.

Golden eagles are not endangered species, but are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

“We deeply regret the impacts to golden eagles at two of our wind facilities,” Duke Energy Renewables President Greg Wolf said in a statement. “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.”

Hundreds of thousands of birds are killed every year when they accidentally fly into giant wind turbine blades, though likely only a small number of them are protected eagles. Wildlife groups say that birds of prey scanning the ground below for food often ignore the blades ahead of them.

Tim Hayes, an environmental development director at the energy company, said that the facilities were developed “during a period when our company’s and the wind industry’s understanding of eagle impacts at wind farms was still evolving.”

“This agreement will help advance the knowledge of wind wildlife interactions to further reduce the industry's relatively small impacts," the American Wind Energy Association said in a statement.

The wind energy sector has experienced a boon under the Obama administration. While the president has been in office, the industry has grown by about 30 percent each year.  

The Fish and Wildlife Service grants permits to allow companies to build wind farms as long as they use “advanced conservation practices” to protect the animals.

A regulation under final review at the White House’s regulations office would extend those permits, which currently last for five years, to 30.