Wind Energy Company Pleads Guilty, Owes $8 Million in Fines After At Least 150 Eagles Killed

by Lauren Boisvert
(Photo by Justin Paget/Getty Images)

A subsidiary of NextEra Energy recently pleaded guilty to criminal charges after killing at least 150 eagles at its wind farms over eight states. The courts ordered ESI Energy to pay $8 million in restitution, plus sentenced the company to five years probation after violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act on three counts.

According to ABC News, ESI Energy acknowledged golden and bald eagle deaths at 50 wind farms since 2012. The states where the birds died are Wyoming, California, New Mexico, North Dakota, Colorado, Michigan, Arizona and Illinois.

At a Glance

  • ESI Energy pleaded guilty to criminal charges and violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act
  • At least 150 golden and bald eagles have been killed at 50 wind farms since 2012
  • 2,200 golden eagles are killed annually by human causes

Wind Energy Company Pleads Guilty to Eagle Deaths

Prosecutors claimed that wind turbines struck all the birds killed. Officials cited the number killed at 150, but could not find all the carcasses, according to prosecutors. The total number of birds killed could potentially be much higher.

Steven Stengel, NextEra spokesperson, claimed that the company didn’t believe it needed permits for unintentional bird deaths. Many other wind energy companies obtained permits for unintentional bird deaths and additionally took steps to protect eagles. ESI and NextEra did not, though they claim that the guilty plea will allow them to continue their business without fear of prosecution, according to ABC News.

Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, it is illegal to kill birds or take their parts, including feathers, without special permission from the Secretary of the Interior. The eagle deaths at the wind farms are a direct violation of the act. According to the court documents, most of the birds killed were golden eagles. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, human causes kill about 2,200 golden eagles annually out of 31,000 in the Western U.S.

How Wind Energy Companies Avoided Prosecution in the Past

Previously, wind energy companies avoided prosecution under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by assuring they had permits for any accidental bird deaths. They also took steps to protect birds from wind turbines. According to ABC News, officials told ESI representatives that eagles would die if they built two wind farms in central and southeastern Wyoming. Court documents report that the company ignored the warnings and proceeded anyway.

Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim revealed in a statement, “For more than a decade, ESI has violated [wildlife] laws, taking eagles without obtaining or even seeking the necessary permit.”

The courts measured out the consequences as follows; ESI Energy must take steps to protect eagles in the areas where they own wind farms. This includes spending $27 million during their 5-year probation to prevent further eagle deaths. Additionally, ESI must shut down turbines during times when eagles are more present in the areas. At the times when eagles are killed, the company will pay $29,623 per dead bird.

The Biden Administration recently auctioned off two parcels of land for wind farms off the coast of the Carolinas. Hopefully, those companies will take precautions to protect the birds in their areas.