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Wind Turbines Whack Eagles; Aeronautics Industry Worries Wind Farm May Whack Crop Dusters

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.


  1. larry kurtz 2022-04-08 07:28

    In South Dakota the three elected Republicans on the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) have taken a position opposed to net metering and the state’s Koch-soaked legislature has considered but declined to pass legislation on the issue. No corporate taxes, a compliant regulator, a dearth of environmental protection and cheap labor make South Dakota the perfect dumping ground for earth killers like coal and eyesores like wind farms.

  2. leslie 2022-04-08 07:42

    Good thing Bison Bison aren’t mingling underneath turbines.

  3. John 2022-04-08 07:57

    Spot on! Wires and towers are a far greater low level flight hazard than are wind turbines.
    Besides, the corporate agriculture industry has alternatives:
    1) helicopters;
    2) plant based food, and
    3) synthetic protein — both displacing the need for massive amounts of livestock feed, and solar/wind/battery is displacing ethanol and gas.

  4. Nick Nemec 2022-04-08 08:26

    The Hughes-Hyde complaint against the wind turbines is the work of one rich Trump true believer with money to burn and an ax to grind. His neighbors are getting real sick of his opposition to this project. There are wind projects all over the state, including right next to this proposed project, we don’t hear reports of crop-dusters getting whacked by turbine blades.

    I’ve seen articles that suggest if one of the three turbine blades is painted black, birds can better perceive the danger and steer clear of the turbine. This might be a solution to reduce deaths.

  5. james 2022-04-08 09:28

    The poll indicates this and I believe it. That pork plant wouldn’t get 30 percent approval if up for a vote by Sioux Falls residents. Put a second stinking plant in city limits? Just crazy stupid.

    Where are the city candidates on this? If they have been speaking on this subject, I haven’t heard it. It’s a big opportunity.

  6. 96Tears 2022-04-08 11:40

    As you’ve pointed out, there are a hell of a lot more bald eagles killed by other human-created factors. Out of eight large-size states, 150 eagles ain’t much at all. Why is anyone bothering with this?

    How about if we stop using wind towers and solar installations? Oh yeah, some people got problems with those solar farms too! If anybody’s got a gripe, shut everything down because it’s more important to pander than to solve big, real problems.

    Here’s a problem. Twenty million people homeless, displaced, desperate and forced into refugee camps because climate change made it impossible for them to live in their homes.

    Here’s another problem. Moving huge populations from coastal cities 30-50 years from now because humanity couldn’t stop arguing in time to actually affect climate change and prevent rising sea levels.

    Here’s another problem. Hundreds of millions starving to death because humanity couldn’t stop arguing in time to actually affect climate change and prevent the changes that ruined crop lands that fed America and the world. God ain’t making more land, and the land we have will soon enough (in decades) no longer be productive. Ask any rational farmer what happens if there is a drought for four or five consecutive years.

    Keep those towers up and running. Keep installing new ones. When we reach the point of being able to survive, they will no doubt be replaced by the next innovation that generates the energy we need to live without making climate change a greater threat than it already is. Energy is 100 percent transitional. We’ve come a long way from campfires outside our caves. If civilization is allowed to make it to the next phase of energy generation and transmission, our offspring will look back and wonder why folks got their shorts in a bunch over 150 eagles hitting wind energy towers across eight large states.

  7. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-04-08 11:58

    Nick: paint them black? Really? That seems counterintuitive. Are the birds attracted to the white blades and thus less inclined to go near the black ones?

    And who is the local Trumpist agitator?

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-04-08 12:00

    96, I’m going to get cranky with agriculture if it keeps trying to claim some priority in all zoning matters just because it was here first or because of its continued pretense to be the biggest, most essential industry in the state. Ag generates fewer jobs and less revenue than other sectors in South Dakota. If wind power can add jobs and revenue and diversify the state’s economic portfolio, existing industries should not stand in the way. After all, it was wind farm construction, not agriculture, that saved the state budget in 2020.

    Agriculture gets enough favors from government in the form of subsidies; we don’t need government to sandbag other industries on ag’s behalf as well, just because ag can’t figure out a safer way to dump chemicals on its land.

    And seriously: is it really more cost effective to dump chemicals from a plane than spread them with a tractor? Isn’t ground-based application less wasteful (i.e., won’t more of the pesticide blow away and miss the crop when dropped from the air at high speed than when sprayed from a tractor)? And why not try organic methods that don’t require airborne toxic events?

  9. Nick Nemec 2022-04-08 12:18

    Cory, paint one of the three blades black the other two remain white. Birds can more easily discern them turning if they aren’t all the same.

    The local guy throwing obstacles in the way and who is willing to throw lots of money at the effort is Michael Bollweg. He is a big farmer and owner of a high end commercial hunting operation. At PUC hearings he has couched his opposition as fighting to save his hunting operation. I’m sure the lawyer fees are a tax deductible expense.

  10. jerry 2022-04-08 14:35

    By disrupting the look of a clear flight path, putting any kind of pattern will deter birds from flying into it.

    The Putin loving ALEC/Koch fascists will always find a way to promote fossil fuel at the cost of human misery.

    Regarding crop dusters, forbid them to fly within 5 nautical air miles of a wind farm or run the risk of being shot down by that wackadoodle farmer in Hyde County.

  11. Arlo Blundt 2022-04-08 15:25

    Hmmmm…more Eagles get hit by cars while dining on roadkill…the comeback of Eagles is a triumph of public concern over big ag, , one of very few environmental victories in the last century. Eagles especially the bald, have proven to be a robust species when left to their own devices and may find ways to adapt and avoid wind turbines on their hunting grounds. Golden Eagles seem to be more fragile in their ability to survive mankind, but are continuing a slow comeback in the prairie states. It is unknown how many pheasant hunters pot shot Eagles and maintain they are protecting pheasant chicks but my bet is over 150.

  12. All Mammal 2022-04-08 15:39

    Seems like a stretch to sue for that amount of money in the name of the Migratory Bird Act.

    I had no idea bald eagles migrated. Where do they go/come from?

    That makes sky scrapers in cities like Chicago, with their snazzy reflective glass, possibly responsible for a 100x that many migrating birdies flying into windows.

    When the Rapid City magat shooting complex is up and kabooming, will they be sued for millions as well for all the dead bald eagles thanks to lead poisoning from the shipload of ammo sexual byproducts?

  13. mike from iowa 2022-04-08 16:21

    My 1995 Jeep hit a baldy on a county blacktop and I guarantee my Jeep was not dining on road kill at the time. Eagle was munching on a roadkill in the ditch and I did not see it as I was watching crows mob another baldy up and to my right. This eagle hit the windshield frame t5o my immediate left and barely cracked the windshield along that edge. I was that close to having braked enough to miss it. Unfortunately, it could not use its legs to take off. It could flap its wings and move over the ground rapidly. DNR euthanized it with its back broken.

  14. cibvet 2022-04-08 16:34

    Lead poisoning and poisoning of carcasses kills far more eagles than turbines.
    As for crop dusters, if they fly into a turbine blade, they should have had their
    pilot license revoked much sooner. Fines are just free money never to be seen again.

  15. Mark Anderson 2022-04-08 18:10

    They could just broadcast the Rolling Stones song Paint it Black. Even the Eagles would like that. I don’t think Hotel California would do.

  16. Richard Schriever 2022-04-09 08:45

    Cory – agriculture is NOT “the biggest, most essential industry in the state.” But it sure has used propaganda effectively to convince you and many others it is. Unless, of course, you are using the representation of raw acreage as your measure – like the US Senate and the electoral college do – as opposed to number of people or dollars.

  17. leslie 2022-04-09 22:28

    Gettin’ into Lebowski territory there, Mark!

    Even my youngest called me out at the disc park. “Calmer than you, Walter!”

  18. mike from iowa 2022-04-14 14:18

    In other outdoor related news for South Duhkota, the latest edition of Fur, Fish and Game magazine has good news for CRP owners. You c an receive $188 per acre for long term leases and other incentives and Noem’s goofy tail bounty program is in effect again for year 4.

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