ESI Energy fined $8m for deaths of 150 eagles at wind farms

Prosecutors said that almost all of the birds were killed after being hit by the blades of wind turbines

A US energy company was fined $8m after at least 150 eagles were killed at its wind farms in eight states.

Federal prosecutors say that ESI Energy had acknowledged the death of golden and bald eagles at 50 wind farms in Wyoming, California, New Mexico, North Dakota, Colorado, Michigan, Arizona and Illinois.

The company, which is a subsidiary of NextEra Energy, also received five years of probation after being charged with three counts of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The charges were brought after the deaths of nine eagles at three wind farms in Wyoming and New Mexico.

Prosecutors said that almost all of the birds were killed after being hit by the blades of wind turbines and that the actual number of dead birds was likely higher than 150, as the carcasses are often not found.

Officials said that NextEra Energy’s failure to take steps to protect the birds or to obtain permit to kill them had given it an advantage over competing companies that did so.

NextEra spokesperson Steven Stengel said the company had not got permits as it does not believe the law requires it for unintentional bird deaths.

The Florida-based company stated that it pleaded guilty to resolve all prior allegations and to remove the continued threat of prosecution.

NextEra, which says it is the world’s largest utility company by market value, has more than 100 wind farms in the US and Canada and is also involved in solar, natural gas and nuclear power.

“We disagree with the government’s underlying enforcement policy, which under most circumstances makes building and operating a wind farm into which certain birds may accidentally fly a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) – even when the wind farm was developed and sited in a way that sought to avoid avian wildlife collisions,” said NextEra President Rebecca Kujawa.

“The reality is building any structure, driving any vehicle, or flying any airplane carries with it a possibility that accidental eagle and other bird collisions may occur as a result of that activity.”

Under the Biden administration federal wildlife officials have increasingly enforced protections of eagles and other birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Prosecutions of companies while Donald Trump was in the White House.

The bald eagle, which has been the symbol of the United States since the 1700s, has a population of more than 300,000, in the lower 48 states. Officials say there are more than 30,000 of the birds in Alaska.

There are an estimated 31,8000 golden eagles in the Western US states, with around 2,200 killed each year due to humans.

Most of the eagles killed at ESI and NextEra wind farms were golden eagles, according to court papers.

“For more than a decade, ESI has violated (wildlife) laws, taking eagles without obtaining or even seeking the necessary permit,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division in a statement.

Under its plea deal ESI agreed to spend $27m over five years to prevent future eagle deaths.

The Independent has reached out to NextEra for comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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