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Guilty plea in bird deaths at wind farms a first

By Dina Cappiello

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Nov. 23 2013 9:03 a.m. MST

The wind farms in Friday's settlement came on line before the Obama administration drafted voluntary guidelines encouraging wind energy companies to work with the Fish and Wildlife Service to avoid locations that would impact wildlife. Companies that choose to cooperate get rewarded because prosecutors take it into consideration before pursuing prosecution.

Once a wind farm is built, there is little a company can do to stop the deaths. Some companies have tried using radar to detect birds and to shut down the turbines when they get too close. Others have used human spotters to warn when birds are flying too close to the blades. Another tactic has been to remove vegetation to reduce the prey the birds like to eat.

As part of the agreement, Duke will continue to use field biologists to identify eagles and shut down turbines when they get too close. It will install new radar technology, similar to what is used in Afghanistan to track missiles. And it will continue to voluntarily report all eagle and bird deaths to the government.

The company will also have to apply for an eagle take permit and draft a plan to reduce eagle and bird deaths at its four wind farms in Wyoming.

Duke's $1 million will be divided. The fine — $400,000 — will go into a wetlands conservation fund. The state of Wyoming gets $100,000. The remainder will be used to purchase land or easements to protect golden eagle habitat and for projects aimed at minimizing interactions between eagles and wind turbines in Wyoming.

Associated Press writer Mead Gruver in Cheyenne, Wyo., contributed to this report.

Follow Dina Cappiello on Twitter at www.twitter.com/dinacappiello

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