The company, NextEra Energy, a subsidiary of ESI Energy, pleaded guilty to violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which prevents anyone from killing or taking parts from protected birds without permission from the local government. Moreover, golden and bald eagles are protected by federal law.
The company pleaded guilty to three specific deaths, which prompted the fines.
As part of the case, the company also acknowledged the deaths of over 150 eagles at the company's wind farms in Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, North Dakota and Michigan.
The ruling came amidst the push from the Biden administration for more renewable energy, including a large expansion of offshore wind farms.
This appears to be a government shakedown to some critics, making it more interesting how the Obama administration in 2013 said it will allow some companies to kill or injure bald and golden eagles for up to 30 years without penalty.
Prosecutors said the eagles died over a period beginning in 2012, and 136 of them were killed after being struck by a turbine blade.
As per the Department of Justice, the ESI failed to apply for the necessary permits following the deaths of the birds, adding that they have violated wildlife laws for more than a decade by taking eagles without seeking the said permit.
NextEra spokesperson Steven Stengel said the company didn't seek permits because it believed the law didn't require them for unintentional bird deaths – which makes sense considering that the permit process for species protection measure is meant to apply to hunters and others who intentionally kill wild animals.
In its plea agreement, the ESI agreed to spend up to $27 million during its probationary period on an "eagle management plan" to minimize further deaths and injuries.
The company also committed to paying $29,623 per future injury or death of a bald or golden eagle.
In a statement, the ESI said the collisions with the wind turbines were unavoidable and should not be criminalized, adding that the company has been making significant efforts to avoid accidental collisions with bird populations, including eagles.
Critics also asked whether the permits are required of airline and skyscraper owners, who are also responsible for bird carnage. (Related: Wind power will worsen climate, scientists find.)
NextEra President Rebecca Kujawa said the company disagrees with the government's underlying enforcement activity. Building any structure, driving any vehicle or flying any airplane carries with it a possibility of accidental avian collision as well.
The impact of wind turbines on bird populations has already caused controversy from former President Donald J. Trump, who was known to oppose them. In a presidential debate in 2020, Trump said wind turbines kill "all the birds."
In 2021, it was calculated that wind farms kill more than half a million birds yearly. Surprisingly, they also kill more than nuclear power plants. Yale University professor Steven Novella also said nuclear power is the safest form of energy that we have if one is to consider the deaths per megawatt of energy produced. (Related: Bladeless turbines could help bring wind power to your home.)
This also shows a larger issue about why there is wind power at all. They are comically inefficient, with wind producing merely one watt of power per square meter of space used, whereas nuclear offers 2,000 watts. It will also require a region three times the size of California to meet the country's current energy needs.
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