By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
A wind power development company whose windmills across the country have been blamed for the deaths of 150 golden and bald eagles over the past decade has been cited in the deaths of nine of the birds in Wyoming and New Mexico.
The federal government on Friday filed three misdemeanor charges against ESI Energy over the deaths of birds at the Cedar Springs wind development in Converse County, the Roundhouse development in Laramie County and the New Mexico Wind project in New Mexico.
In exchange for being charged in the deaths of nine of the birds rather than all 150, ESI has agreed to extensive changes costing up to $27 million at its wind farms in Wyoming, New Mexico, Florida, California, Colorado, Arizona, Michigan, Oregon, North Dakota, Illinois and Kansas.
In court documents, federal prosecutors said ESI consistently disregarded the advice of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in building the Cedar Springs, Roundhouse and New Mexico Wind projects.
The company was aware that golden and bald eagles were reported in the areas the project were built, the documents said, but proceeded with the construction regardless. The company also refused to obtain “eagle taking permits,” a permit granted when an activity — such as the operation of wind turbines — is expected to result in the deaths of some of the birds.
“ESI adopted a nationwide posture of not applying for eagle take permits; at no time did ESI or any of its subsidiaries or affiliated companies or their personnel or agents apply for or obtain any eagle taking permit authorizing the killing or wounding of any eagles relating to any of its wind power facilities,” the documents said.
However, ESI has recently changed its position on the bird deaths and has agreed to take steps in the future to minimize the impact of its windmills on the animals, the documents said.
“The (Department of Justice) believes, based on interactions with ESI counsel and management in recent months … that (ESI) has undergone a beneficial change in its approach to safeguarding public wildlife resources in the development and operation of its wind facilities,” it said.
The department is recommending a plea agreement that involves ESI reviewing the operations of 50 of its wind energy facilities, monitoring them for eagle deaths and working with the Fish and Wildlife Service to minimize threats to the birds.
The company has also agreed to work with the Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether some of its windmills should be periodically stopped to avoid injuring or killing eagles and has agreed to remove all dead animals from around their windmills so the bodies will not lure the eagles into the area of the windmills.
The company agreed to spent up to $27 million on the effort, which will include the cost of revenue lost when windmills are shut down, over five years.
Such deaths among bird populations are an example of why windmills need to be better regulated in Wyoming, according to Lynn Montoya, a Laramie resident who with her husband has worked to block the development of an Albany County wind project.
“The killing of protected birds is just another example of why Wyoming needs to review its open door policies regarding industrial wind turbines,” she told Cowboy State Daily on Monday. “Wind energy companies have the technology available to reduce bird kill and eagle deaths by up to 82% … but choose not to purchase due to high expense.”