But dang it, just as I cheer our increasing use of wind power, NextEra Energy subsidiary ESI Energy gets fined over $8 million for killing 150 eagles with its wind turbines in South Dakota and seven other states:
A wind energy company was sentenced to probation and ordered to pay more than $8 million in fines and restitution after at least 150 eagles were killed over the past decade at its wind farms in eight states, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
NextEra Energy subsidiary ESI Energy pleaded guilty to three counts of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act during a Tuesday court appearance in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It was charged in the deaths of eagles at three of its wind farms in Wyoming and New Mexico.
In addition to those deaths, golden and bald eagles were killed at wind farms affiliated with ESI and NextEra since 2012 in eight states, prosecutors said: Wyoming, California, New Mexico, North Dakota, Colorado, Michigan, Arizona and Illinois. The birds are killed when they fly into the blades of wind turbines. Some ESI turbines killed multiple eagles, prosecutors said.
…ESI agreed under a plea agreement to spend up to $27 million during its five-year probationary period on measures to prevent future eagle deaths. That includes shutting down turbines at times when eagles are more likely to be present.
Despite those measures, wildlife officials anticipate that some eagles still could die. When that happens, the company will pay $29,623 per dead eagle, under the agreement [“A Wind Energy Company Has Pleaded Guilty After Killing at Least 150 Eagles,” AP via NPR, 2022.04.06].
The South Dakota Aeronautics Commission is worried more wind turbines might knock down a few cropdusters, too. After a closed session Wednesday, the commission approved a letter to the Public Utilities Commission expressing concern about the proposed North Bend Wind Farm in southeastern Hughes County and southwestern Hyde County.
Agriculture is one of South Dakota’s largest industries. In order to maximize crop yield, it is common for agricultural producers to utilize airplanes for aerial application of herbicides and pesticides. Renewable energy in the form of wind turbines and wind project development is an ever-expanding part of the State’s energy supply. The placement and planning of wind farms is done in the seemingly wide-open spaces of agricultural land. Conflicts between permitted land and air use and the rights of private property or facilities will likely arise in response to most permit applications.
The Commission supports the establishment of safe air travel within the State and also understands the need for further infrastructure development. The Commission hopes a balance can be found between air safety and the installation of wind projects such as the one currently under consideration. The construction of wind farms should not result in the dismantling of an agricultural industry within South Dakota [South Dakota Aeronautics Commission, letter to Public Utilities Commission, approved 2022.04.06].
At least the aeronauts aren’t telling the public utilitors to stop new wind farms entirely. But while I can understand birds getting confused and not recognizing the danger posed by whirling wind turbines, is it really that hard for crop dusters to mark wind turbines on their maps and watch where they are flying? We’re not talking about putting Jason Ravnsborg in the cockpit. Crop dusters currently manage to miss power lines and radio towers, which are far harder to see than wind turbines. The temporary testing towers wind developers use to gather data seem more hazardous than the towers themselves. If all the companies involved communicate with each other, and if the wind developers put proper beacons on their equipment, trained pilots should have no trouble avoiding the obstacles created by another industry trying to exercise its equal right to make use of South Dakota’s wide open spaces and natural resources.
Besides, crop dusters should only be out spraying when wind turbines pose the least hazard—i.e., when it’s not windy, when the blades won’t be spinning and when the pesticides won’t drift. Watch where you’re flying, crop dusters, and your industry and the wind power industry can work together just fine.