Wind farm owner settles criminal charges for killing 38 golden eagles and 298 other protected birds over 6 years

There was another settlement last week for a wind farm owner killing a bunch of birds.

The slaughter of eagles and other protected birds is the reason wind turbines have the well-earned title of slice-and-dicer. One pundit calls them Cuisinarts.

The Associated Press reports: Wind farm operator PacifiCorp Energy pleads guilty in bird deaths at wind farms in Wyoming.

The Seven Mile Hill and Glenrock/Rolling Hills projects in Wyoming are owned and run by PacifiCorp Energy. The owner has entered a guilty plea to two counts of breaking the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Officials have counted the dead birds at those two facilities since 2009. How high is the count of shredded birds? The article says:

  • 38 golden eagles
  • 336 other protected birds

I think that count is incorrect. According to the criminal information complaint filed in the case, which is available in the federal PACER system, the total bird count at the two facilities is 336, which includes the 38 golden eagles. The two counts consist of one count for each facility.

The plea agreement is sealed, which means we don’t get to see the terms of the settlement.

The information filing gives a start date of May 19, 2009 and an end date of December 19, 2014. Let’s round that to 5.6 years. That means the two facilities are chopping up:

  • 6.8 golden eagles a year, or one every 54 days, and
  • 53.2 other protected birds a year, or one every 6.8 days.

Combined, that means at just two of their thirteen facilities, PacifiCorp is killing off 60 protected birds a year, or one every 6 days. We can round that out to one golden eagle every two months and another protected bird every week.

PacifiCorp will implement some plans to try to cut back on the number of sliced birds and will be monitored for 5 years.

The fine will be $2.5 million, all but $200K of which will be paid to two environmentalist organizations.

That is a penalty of $7,440 per bird. Of course, that is only for the birds that were found, not the ones that coyotes and cougars and buzzards carried off. Doesn’t count the ones that were eaten in place or decomposed between the occasional count.

The penalty mentioned in the information charge is $15,000 per count. I recall the penalty is $250,000 for offing an eagle. That means the potential fine would have been somewhere around $14 million. Looks like a bargain, huh? Under 18 cents on the dollar.

Minor cost of doing business

According to the company that constructed the two projects, each of those wind farms has 79 turbines with potential capacity of 118MW. That is 1.5 MW per tower. In a year, that is potential capacity of 237MW. With what I will assume is 40% realization, that is 830K MWh per year (237 mw x 40% x 24 x 365). For 5.6 years that is 4.65M MWh. A fine of $2.5M is $0.54 per MWh, or $.000537 per kilowatt hour.

That means the fine is 0.054 pennies per KWh. One-twentieth of a penny an hour. The Production Tax Credit alone is 2.3 cents per KWh.

Feel free to check my math. Did I slip a digit somewhere?

Anyone want me to show the full calculation?

If I did the math right (a large assumption but one I’ll stand on until someone can point out the errors of my way), that makes the penalty a minor cost of doing business.

Is this a get-out-of-jail-free card?

The plea agreement is listed as a filed document in the PACER system, but I don’t have privileges to see it.

The PACER system provides the following comment for the plea agreement:

NON-PUBLIC DOCUMENT pursuant to the Judicial Conference Policy on Privacy and Public Access – PLEA AGREEMENT as to Pacificorp Energy. This is an 11(c)(1)(C) binding plea agreement. (Court Staff, szr) (Entered: 12/19/2014)

I think that means it is under seal.

Here is what I would like to know: does this agreement gives the company a pass on all birds killed in the future, as happened in the Duke Energy Renewables settlement?

If there is some sort of non-prosecution for future violations, this a not only a get-out-of-jail-free card but would actually be an incredible bargain. If similar to the previous Duke settlement, which is public, this gives them a paid-up pass on future takings.

Anyone have a copy of the plea agreement? Know where it has been published? Anyone want to slip a copy over the transom?

Aha. Why the company wants to seal all the info on its bird slicing

Article a month ago reported the company wants to seal the reports it files.

See 11/18 – Casper Star Tribune picking up an Associated Press story – Wind firm sues to block release of bird-death data – Pacificorp files lawsuit to stop records request – PacifiCorp owns 13 wind farms and doesn’t want data released to the AP on how many dead eagles, migratory birds, and other birds have been found dead on its facilities. They have sued to stop release of reports filed by the company on bird kills they know about.

The story says the AP has put together enough pieces of information to indicate there have been four dozen eagle kills in Wyoming alone since 2009. Assuming that is exactly 48 and start with all of 2009, that means there have been about 8 a year.

AP says there have been 20 eagles killed on Pacificorp facilities.

The info previously accumulated by AP would certainly explain why the company doesn’t want their reports made public.

The data mentioned in the filed federal criminal information indicates the counts mentioned in the AP article are quite low.

No wonder they want the records removed from public view.

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