PacifiCorp Energy has agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle charges arising from bird deaths at two of its wind farms located in Wyoming. PacifiCorp pled guilty in Wyoming federal court to two misdemeanor violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and was sentenced to five years' probation. The company also agreed to institute a compliance program to prevent bird deaths at the utility's four commercial wind farms in Wyoming.
According to allegations, the company failed to make all reasonable efforts to build projects in a way that would avoid risk of bird deaths by collision with turbine blades consistent with guidance finalized by the Fish & Wildlife Service in 2012. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act violations were charged following discovery of the carcasses of 38 golden eagles and 336 other protected birds at the company's Seven Mile Hill and Glenrock/Rolling Hills wind farms in Carbon and Converse counties.
This is the second prosecution of wind farm owners and operators under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Duke Energy was convicted last year in similar charges flowing from bird deaths at two of its wind farms also located in Wyoming. See "First Criminal Conviction Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for Wind Farm" blog we posted on November 26, 2013.
These are very troubling cases that pit environmentalists against clean energy advocates. While wind farm energy is highly sought after in the U.S., it is clear there is an increased scrutiny on the utilities that operate these wind projects to ensure that construction, design and operation of these wind farms are protective of birds. In many ways, this seems like an almost impossible achievement for companies.