A subdivision of one of the largest American providers of renewable energy pleaded guilty to criminal charges and federal prosecutors stated on Wednesday they are ordered to pay over $8 million in fines and restitution after killing 150 eagles at its wind farms in eight different states.
ESI Energy, which is a NextEra subsidiary, was also sentenced to five years probation after being charged with three counts of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act during a court appearance in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The deaths of nine eagles at three wind farms in Wyoming and New Mexico brought the charges about.
Prosecutors stated that in addition to those deaths, the company acknowledged the deaths of golden and bald eagles at 50 wind farms affiliated with ESI and NextEra since 2012. These companies killed birds in eight different states: Wyoming, North Dakota, Arizona, California, New Mexico, Michigan, Illinois, and Colorado.
NextEra generates natural gas, nuclear and solar power. Based in Juno Beach, Florida, NextEra bills itself as the world’s largest utility company by market value and has more than 100 wind farms in the U.S.
Prosecutors stated that almost all of the eagles that were killed at the NextEra subsidiary’s facilities were struck by the blades of wind turbines. Court documents cited some turbines are not always found, officials said the number killed was likely higher than the 150 birds cited in court documents.
The company’s failure to take the proper steps to protect eagles or to obtain permits to kill the birds have it an advantage over competitors that did take those steps, prosecutors said. ESI and other NextEra affiliates received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal tax credits from the wind power they produce.
Under the migratory bird act, it is illegal to hill or harm eagles, however numerous industries have lobbied for many years against enforcing the law for accidental bird deaths.
The bald eagle has been the U.S. national symbol since the 1700s and its population has decreased severely in the last century due to harmful pesticides such as DDT. After a dramatic recovery, the bald eagle was removed from protection under the Endangered Species Act in 2007. Biologists say that more than 300,000 bald eagles now occupy the United States, with the exception of Alaska.
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