Duke Energy pleads guilty to eagle deaths

November 25, 2013 by  
Filed under Solar Energy Tips

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WASHINGTON — Duke Energy, the region’s dominant utility, will pay $1 million to the government after pleading guilty to killing 14 eagles and 149 other birds at two Wyoming wind farms.

The action marks the first time the government has enforced environmental laws protecting birds against wind energy facilities – where spinning rotor blades can reach speeds up to 170 mph at the tips, creating tornado-like vortexes.

An investigation by The Associated Press in May revealed dozens of eagle deaths from wind energy facilities, including at Duke’s Top of the World farm outside Casper, Wyo., the deadliest for eagles of 15 such facilities that Duke operates nationwide.

Charlotte, N.C.-based Duke has a market capitalization of nearly $50 billion.

“We deeply regret the impacts of golden eagles at two of our wind facilities,” said Greg Wolf, president of Duke Energy Renewables, the utility’s renewable energy arm. “Our goal is to provide the benefits of wind energy in the most environmentally responsible way possible.”

A study in September by federal biologists found that wind turbines had killed at least 67 bald and golden eagles since 2008.

Until Friday’s announcement, not a single wind energy company had been prosecuted for a death of an eagle or other protected bird — even though each death is a violation of federal law.

In 2009, Exxon Mobil pleaded guilty and paid $600,000 for killing 85 birds in five states. The BP oil company was fined $100 million for killing and harming migratory birds during the 2010 Gulf oil spill.

Wind farms are clusters of turbines as tall as 30-story buildings, with spinning rotors as wide as a passenger jet’s wingspan. Flying eagles behave like drivers texting on their cellphones; they don’t look up. As they scan for food, they don’t notice the industrial turbine blades until it’s too late.

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.

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