Duke Energy has agreed to pay $1 million in fines as part of the Justice Department’s first criminal case against a wind power company for the deaths of protected birds.
A subsidiary of the company, Duke Energy Renewables, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Wyoming on Friday to violating the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The company was charged with killing 14 golden eagles and dozens of other birds at two wind projects in Wyoming since 2009.
In a plea agreement, the company said it would pay the fines to several conservation groups, including the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The company must also put a plan in place to prevent bird deaths in the future, federal officials said.
“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,” Robert G. Dreher, the acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s environment and natural resources division, said in a statement.
Birds are often killed when they fly into wind turbines, meteorological towers and power facilities associated with wind power projects, federal officials said. The golden eagle, which is named for its golden feathers and has a wingspan of about 6 feet, is commonly found in the western Plains.
Duke Energy said it had already been working with federal officials to limit bird deaths. The company is installing new radar technology to detect birds and using field biologists to look for eagles and determine when turbines need to be shut down, the company said.
“Our goal is to provide the benefits of wind energy in the most environmentally responsible way possible,” Greg Wolf, the president of Duke Energy Renewables, said in a statement. “We deeply regret the impacts to golden eagles at two of our wind facilities.”
The American Bird Conservancy, a nonprofit group that supports protections for bird habitats, said that the plea agreement was a positive step toward addressing bird deaths caused by the wind industry, but that federal officials needed to do more to address violations by other companies.
“All wind projects will kill some birds,” Michael Hutchins, national coordinator of the group’s bird-smart wind energy campaign, said Friday. “It is, sadly, unavoidable, but some areas are worse than others, and we can predict where many of these will be.”