How will fine for wind turbines killing birds affect Nevada wind projects?

One can’t help but wonder how a recent $1 million in fines and penalties levied against Duke Energy Renewables for killing migratory birds with its wind turbines in Wyoming will affect wind projects in Nevada.

In March, a golden eagle was found dead at the Spring Valley wind farm east of Ely, additionally the turbines there have killed a number of other birds and bats. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has taken no action yet against the wind farm’s owner Pattern Energy.

Duke Energy Renewables still has in the works an 87-turbine wind farm east of Searchlight. Might the prospects of additional million-dollar assessments at a facility near Lake Mohave, home to bald and golden eagles dampen the company’s ardor for the project? That would come on top of the fact the $12 billion wind production tax credit is set to expire at the end of the year and there has been no discussion of renewal. Also, Duke has yet to line up a buyer for the power the wind farm would produce and has said that the project will not go forward without such a buyer being lined up.

On Friday Duke pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Wyoming to violating the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act — the  first ever criminal enforcement of the act for wind projects. In a press release, the Department of Justice stated:

“Under a plea agreement with the government, the company was sentenced to pay fines, restitution and community service totaling $1 million and was placed on probation for five years, during which it must implement an environmental compliance plan aimed at preventing bird deaths at the company’s four commercial wind projects in the state.  The company is also required to apply for an Eagle Take Permit which, if granted, will provide a framework for minimizing and mitigating the deaths of golden eagles at the wind projects.”

The company’s two Wyoming wind farms have killed 14 golden eagles and 149 other protected birds, including hawks, blackbirds, larks, wrens and sparrows between 2009 and 2013.

A 2009 study by Fish and Wildlife estimated wind turbines kill 440,000 birds annually. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates nearly 70 bald and golden eagles have been killed by wind turbines in the past four years, and figure doesn’t include the 75 a year killed at Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area in California.

“This case represents the first criminal conviction under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for unlawful avian takings at wind projects,” said Robert G. Dreher, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.  “In this plea agreement, Duke Energy Renewables acknowledges that it constructed these wind projects in a manner it knew beforehand would likely result in avian deaths. To its credit, once the projects came on line and began causing avian deaths, Duke took steps to minimize the hazard, and with this plea agreement has committed to an extensive compliance plan to minimize bird deaths at its Wyoming facilities and to devote resources to eagle preservation and rehabilitation efforts.”

In April, attorneys filed in U.S. District Court of Nevada a lawsuit (Searchlight suit) accusing former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar of acting in “a manner that is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and contrary to law” when he granted permission for construction of an 87-turbine wind farm east of Searchlight on 19,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management land.

The suit alleges the Final Environmental Impact Statement, on which Salazar based his approval, was written by consultants for Searchlight Wind Energy, which is owned by Duke Energy. The suit says the FEIS is a one-sided and an incomplete portrait of the project’s adverse environmental impacts.

Another Searchlight deterrent might be the potential for litigation with nearby landowners. Though the Interior Department found no negative impact on property values due to wind farms, a report this year by Nevada Policy Research Institute found studies by real estate appraisers that conclude properties within two to three miles of wind turbines had values decline up to nearly 60 percent — with the decreased value being “tantamount to an inverse condemnation, or regulatory taking of private property rights.”

Simulation of what windmills may look it east of Searchlight and near Lake Mohave, home to bald and golden eagle.

31 comments on “How will fine for wind turbines killing birds affect Nevada wind projects?

  1. Rincon says:

    Boy, what a conflict for you guys – and for the environmentalists. You aren’t worried about the birds, but you hate wind power. The environmentalists of course, are the opposite.

    The good news is that wind farms are a minor cause of death.
    There are an estimated 70,000 bald eagles worldwide.

    Golden eagles number about 120,000

    So a hundred or so deaths a year represents a tiny portion of the total. As for smaller birds, the family cat is a far greater hazard. They kill about 3.7 billion of them each year according to USA Today.
    This is a tempest in a teapot.

  2. Milty says:

    “Boy, what a conflict for you guys – and for the environmentalists. You aren’t worried about the birds, but you hate wind power. The environmentalists of course, are the opposite.”

    Pretty logical train of thought, just because I don’t want to pay additional taxes to subsidize wind power, and just because I don’t want to pay higher utility bills to subsidize wind power, you’ve jumped to the conclusion that I “hate wind power”?

  3. Steve says:

    “This is a tempest in a teapot.”
    No it isn’t.
    Harry Reid made clear he would block efforts by environmentalists aiming at renewable energy. It was a few years back so don’t ask me for the source though I think Tom may have posted an article about it here.

    The migratory bird act has been in place since 1918. Conservatives really are not suffering dichotomy from this. The problem is the incredibly weak output from renewable sources. I have no trouble with efficient sources of energy and I also want them to be as clean as possible. Simply put I realize there are limits to what can be done efficiently. Libs don’t care about efficiency, they only care about their chosen ideal.

    You can call out all the stats you like, the fact is environmentalists are going after wind power now, the only thing I think of it how they are suffering from their own dichotomy. Libs are fracturing in their own ranks. Welcome to the power tower. It eats itself from the inside.

    I trained my cat to stay away from birds…don’t laugh…its easy. If the cat decides it wants to please you with a kill, simply ignore the cat. Pick up the kill and walk away. Don’t look at the cat at all. Once. That was all it took. The cat doesn’t chase birds at all anymore.
    Feral cats are totally different issue, the article lumps them into one group and that is wrong. responsible pet owners will do what is need to train their pets. Pit Bull have a bad name not from being a dog, rather from the idiot humans who train them.

  4. Wendy Ellis says:

    Actually, I am worried about the birds! And, I am appalled by the hypocrisy of the greenies. It’s not about the birds, or the vegetation, or the environment. It’s about cronyism, and redistribution of wealth. That is all it has ever been about. “Going green,” “global warming,” “climate change,” are just code for hand over your property and your liberty. What a snow job.

  5. Milty says:

    I remember the first time I read about this issue in an article in The Weekly Standard in the late 1990’s.

    The last paragraph of the article still seems true about so many people in the environmental movement today.

    “Allowing humanity a cheap, inexhaustible source of energy, in the words of Paul Ehrlich, is ‘like giving a machine gun to an idiot child.’ ‘It’s the worst thing that could happen to our planet,’ Luddite activist Jeremy Rifkin told the Los Angeles Times. It appears that the only ‘alternative’ energy sources the environmental establishment will support are those alternatives we haven’t got.”

  6. Rincon says:

    Wind power is slightly (and I do mean slightly)more expensive than coal, but it doesn’t fill our lakes and rivers to the point that the fish in all of the navigable bodies of water in Illinois are considered toxic for pregnant women. So how much money is that worth? Zero to a Conservative. Wind power makes little CO2. Also zero. Wind doesn’t lop off the tops of mountains and fill valleys with toxic fill, which leaches into rivers. Also zero. It doesn’t turn a forested slope into a wasteland. Zero. Wind power doesn’t cause black lung, aggravate asthma, or cause pulmonary disease. Zero again. It almost certainly kills fewer birds than coal, but Conservatives wring their hands over the lesser number of birds affected by wind power. Strange, since they seem to care little about endangered species in all of their other communications.

  7. Steve says:

    Rincon, its not conservatives going after wind power based on bird deaths, though they are along for the ride.

    It IS environmentalists who are leading this charge.

  8. You are ignoring the toxins and pollutants generated in building the turbines and erecting them, as well as the need to keep fossil fuel plants idling in case the wind stops.


  9. Milty says:

    “Wind power is slightly (and I do mean slightly)more expensive than coal…”

    I guess that explains why T. Boone Pickens said, “I’ve lost my ass in wind power.”

  10. Rincon says:

    If Conservatives are OK with the bird deaths, then what is the purpose of “going along for the ride”? I guess we can’t paint all Conservatives with the same brush as Wendy disagrees with you.

    The wind never stops everywhere at the same time. From what I understand, the grid can shift the power around as supply falls in a windless area. Nevertheless, some natural gas peaker plants are needed. The low cost of natural gas today makes wind power more practical than previously.

    Please show me evidence that the toxins and pollutants generated in the manufacture and siting of wind turbines are within light years of the construction of a coal fired power plant and the mining and delivery of its fuel – along with the air pollution of burning billions of tons of coal. Did I mention the toxic ash and slurry?

  11. Steve says:

    I will save Nyp the trouble Milty. Pickens didn’t day that.
    Apparently he said he lost his ass in the business. They even found a way to say Pickens was not even in the wind power biz.
    Fact is Pickens lost money in droves due to his efforts to install gig’s of wind power.
    Spin is so wonderful.

    Meanwhile Kelsey Grammer also lost a bucket load of money on wind power.

  12. Steve says:

    Rincon, I never said conservatives are ok with bird deaths. Stop redefining my words. We are most definitely “along for the ride” it simply shows strange bedfellows in politics.

    Meanwhile its environmentalists leading that particular charge. Make no mistake, conservatives know there are costs associated with everything humans do. Liberal live by ideal, conservatives live by human nature.

  13. Milty says:

    Thank you for two things, Steve. Number one, thank you for correcting me on what Pickens actually said. Number two, thank you for correcting me before Nyp got the chance to do it.

    And Happy Thanksgiving to everyone on this blog.

  14. Steve says:

    I find it real nice that they are finally putting their own money where their mouths are and reaping the just benefits of their investments.

    Brings a smile to my face, Milty.

    Most definitely to all, have a good Thanksgiving.

  15. Rincon says:

    I’m sure that even Conservatives don’t want to see birds die, but as you said, there are costs with everything humans do. I do find it odd though, that Conservatives generally don’t acknowledge the bird deaths caused by coal. The bird issue is probably a good litmus test for environmentalists as is the nuclear issue. The environmentalists that object to both are the radical idealists.

    Liberals aren’t the only ones that live by ideal. Conservatives have the ideal of capitalism and are often purists to the point that they ignore reality. For example, any system that allows 400 of us to be worth more than 150 million is not performing well for the majority. Many Conservatives are just fine with these abominable results and want to allow the trend to continue ad infinitum.

  16. Steve says:

    “I do find it odd though, that Conservatives generally don’t acknowledge the bird deaths caused by coal.”
    The migratory bird act has been in place and doing its job since 1918!

    First comes this:
    “The environmentalists that object to both are the radical idealists.”
    The you lump all Conservatives into one group with:
    ” Conservatives have the ideal of capitalism and are often purists to the point that they ignore reality.”
    Tell me you are not exhibiting a nasty form of prejudice.

    There exist lots of conservatives who want to move these thing in a better direction. The trouble is the radicals have control of the party currently in power. This happens to each side after they have held power for a length of time. Lately it seems to happen faster and faster. The result is for the party not currently in power to elect more radical members in response to the actions of the party currently in power. This downward spiral is what begins the downfall of Democracy as opposed to a Republic. Strangely I am not really upset at the Filibuster being blown off, I simply wish it had occurred at the beginning of the session instead of in the middle of the game. Believe it or not this handed more power to the President moving us in the direction of what constitutes a Republic and it really doesn’t matter to me which party has power. It matters to me what the public votes.
    Transparency ensues no matter how hard they try to hide it in a Republic. Following cycles will reward the side that deserves rewarding.

    If things like Obamacare turn out good then rewards are on their way…nice thought, huh?

  17. Milty says:

    “For example, any system that allows 400 of us to be worth more than 150 million is not performing well for the majority. Many Conservatives are just fine with these abominable results and want to allow the trend to continue ad infinitum.”

    Rincon, here’s a proposal that would increase the average Walmart employee’s wage by $5.83/hour without raising prices.

    All you have to do now is convince your Congressman to sponsor legislation outlawing stock buybacks. And if that doesn’t cause the Walmart employee’s wage to rise, your Congressman can sponsor legislation bringing back FDR’s undistributed profits tax. And if that doesn’t cause the Walmart employee’s wage to rise, you can go back to Rosanne Barr’s suggestion to behead the new CEO of Walmart.

  18. If we embrace that fact that we need to reduce CO2 to curb global warming, industrial wind turbines are a horrible choice and investment – anything but a solution. Not one coal or gas plant the world over has been decommissioned because of IWTs…and eliminating our dependence on fossil fuels is their whole purpose. To quote an expert: “Because wind blows intermittently, electric utilities must either keep their conventional power plants running all the time to make sure the lights don’t go dark, or continually ramp up and down the output from conventional coal-or gas-fired generators (called “cycling”). But coal-fired and gas-fired generators are designed to run continuously, and if they don’t, fuel consumption and emissions generally increase.” This is happening worldwide…–insane-true-eco-scandals.html–cost-of-green-energy-40-higher-than-government-estimates
    The wind industry is built on crony capitalism, it is the only way it can exist. Taxpayer money builds them and power companies are mandated to buy wind generated power at much higher rates than conventionally produced power. There is no true benefit, except to wind power companies, politicians and lobbyists.

  19. The tax credit for wind is lucrative that some Texas wind farms have paid the power company to take their electricity even though it wasn’t needed.

  20. Steve says:

    Ahh yes. Cronyism certainly. However we must also consider that politicians respond to demands made by the majority of their constituents and it seems the majority are under the impression this stuff actually works. Therefore politicians are encouraged to look for ways to answer the call…..can we really blame them for actions their constituents impel them to take?

    The real problem and challenge is educating the believers that the beliefs they hold are wrong.

    Case in Point and perfect example is that Mark Schaffer who haunts blogs anywhere AGW is mentioned prominently and negatively.

  21. Rincon says:

    “Conservatives have the ideal of capitalism and are often purists to the point that they ignore reality.”
    “Tell me you are not exhibiting a nasty form of prejudice”.

    Not at all, Steve. I believe nearly all Conservatives support capitalism. Prejudice implies not having checked out the reality. I read what you guys write and am convinced that some (hence, the word often rather than always) ignore reality. For example, the fact that the 400 are worth more than the 150 million is a reality that most of you essentially ignore – or support.

    That being said, I agree with you about the downward spiral.

  22. Rincon says:

    A large number of sources is no more dependable than a small number, Bill. I can find hundreds of articles on the supposed efficacy of homeopathy for example. Doesn’t make it true. Nevertheless, they deserved investigation.

    I only checked out one of your sources – the Denver Post I think. The assumption stated is that coal plants would have to replace wind power whenever the wind failed. Of course that’s expensive! Coal plants are extremely expensive to start and stop. The article wasn’t being realistic at all. Natural gas is the only reasonable way to dependably supplement wind. Gas plants are quick to start up, and only a small portion of the cost is from the fuel itself, making downtime far less of an issue than for coal.

    I don’t know how dependable our friends at UMass are, but they say: “Recent studies of wind power installed on United States grids have attempted to determine the actual cost of intermittency. They indicate it is currently in the area of a 2-5 tenths of a cent per kWh, depending on penetration. The higher costs were for 20% penetration”.

    So who’s right? I don’t think anyone can be sure. Too many subsidies flying around. We might agree that the best way to assess true cost would be to eliminate all subsidies except one for both industries. That would simplify things enough so that true costs would be obvious.

  23. Milty says:

    “For example, the fact that the 400 are worth more than the 150 million is a reality that most of you essentially ignore – or support.”

    Rincon, your only explanation for this situation is that the rich aren’t being taxed enough. I asked you if globalism and free trade contributed to the problem. You were pretty noncommital about that. I asked if you concurred with a referendum that the Swiss recently voted on (it failed) that capped CEO pay in corporations. You were noncommital about that. I told you about a proposal to raise Walmart employee wages by $5+/hour if the company would forgo stock buybacks and asked if you would support legislation prohibiting stock buybacks. You were noncommital about that. You’re a testimony to the old saying, “If the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” Tax the rich, tax the rich, that’s all you can propose.

    Here’s another one. How much of our income inequality has come about due to the increase in divorce over the last generation and the rise of single parent households during this period?

  24. Rincon says:

    First, we have to decide whether income inequality is a problem or we should ignore it. Well? Let’s not be noncommittal.

    Regardless of any theoretical or real effect of globalization (my opinion on that is not firm), it is preposterous to assert that there just isn’t enough money being made in this country to adequately pay workers. Not when 400 of us are richer than 150 million. Globalization is not the main culprit.

    Your observation about divorce and single parent households is valid, but insufficient to explain income inequality today. I would add the greater wages for women today. People tend to (not universally) marry within their income group. Although influential, it certainly cannot explain why, for example, the richest man in the world in 1985 would be #55 on today’s list (in constant dollars).

    “You’re a testimony to the old saying, “If the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” Tax the rich, tax the rich, that’s all you can propose.”

    Eliminating the present favoritism for the rich in our tax code is the most obvious and possibly effective measure we can take, so what’s your problem with that? We agree that the 70% maximum income tax rate of the 1960’s seems unfair, but taxing the richest of us at 15% (capital gains accounts for a large share of their income in general)while wage earners routinely pay taxes of 25 and 30% is, once again, preposterous.

    I have no education regarding stock buybacks, so naturally, I’m noncommittal. I would not cap CEO pay. I do believe that the owners of corporations, the shareholders, should decide the pay for both the CEO and the board of directors. It’s presently a good ol’ boys’ club.

    A minimum wage greater than the one of 1949 might be worth considering, since our GDP per person is more than 5 times greater today.

    A Consitiutional amendment ruling that corporations cannot be legally equivalent to human beings would be worthwhile too.

    Fees for mutual funds should be required to be on page one of the prospectus in english. According to John Bogle of Vanguard fame, “…investors in mutual funds have been almost criminally misserved.”

    The government should never allow itself to be put in the position of feeling a need to bail banks that are too big to fail.

    All tax deductions should be eliminated and the average tax rate reduced.Corporate subsidies should be simplified and largely eliminateEtc, etc. Is that committal enough or should I go on?

  25. Milty says:

    That’s definitely commital enough for me, Rincon. It’s obvious that you’re very passionate about this, so I trust that you’ve written your Congressman and Senators and demanded that they take action on the points you written about above. I’m sure you’re not the type who will wallow in self pity over the fact that your friend is spending $25K every three years to redecorate his kitchen while you’re evicting tenants from your rental property just because they don’t have a job and can’t pay the rent.

  26. Why build wind turbines AND a gas-fired plant that will sit idle often? It is more polluting than just letting the gas plant operate 24/7.


  27. Rincon says:

    Your point is well taken, Thomas. My underlying assumption is that because wind generators last 25-50 years and the price of natural gas is not at all guaranteed to stay at the historically low levels we enjoy at present, wind power, used sparingly, would provide a diversity of power sources, protecting us against say, a coal miners’ strike, a nuclear accident a la Japan, or a natural gas shortage. I am also trusting the engineers who claim that the wind almost never stops blowing everywhere at the same time and that the grid can shift the power around efficiently so that a peaker plant in say, Tucson can offset a lack of power in Las Vegas. One still wonders though, that in engineering for the worst case scenario, do they call the contribution of wind zero?

    Since Iowa generates 25% of its power from wind, and other great plains states are close behind, we have a nice test case for reliability, but not for costs. The myriad of subsidies for both renewable and fossil fuel power make cost comparisons difficult.

    I still haven’t heard from any of you yet. Is income disparity a problem or is it just fine that the 400 outvalue the 150 million?

  28. I don’t care if someone else is wealthy, just so long as there is enough for those on the bottom rung to afford cars, cell phones, air conditioning, color televisions, computers, refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines and driers … oh, they do, don’t they?

  29. Rincon says:

    You forgot health care, Thomas. According to CNBC, almost two million of us went bankrupt due to medical expenses this year. Over a 50 year span,that means 100 million medical bankruptcies if it continues at this rate. 1/3 of all of us. That sounds awfully high, but you get the idea. No big deal though. As long as you have your dishwasher, I guess it’s all OK.

    We also work like dogs in this country, often not by choice. I think we’re still #1 in the world for hours worked. So we get our dishwashers and the rich get their private jets. What’s not to like?

  30. Rincon says:

    I guess home foreclosures are not an issue either. Serves ’em right for thinking that they could afford a nice home in the first place. Rich banks of course, were rescued. But hey, we’ve still got a dishwasher, even though it’s owned by the landlord these days.

  31. john hall says:

    Milty,Rifkn’s full of it and he’s a hypocrite.Back in the 1980’s you couldn’t pick up a newspaper or
    magazine without reading about Rifkin attacking Biotechnology.He filed a ton of lawsuits against it.His main complaint was that scientists were rushing to use this technology without having a formal
    discussion on it’s safety and impact on society and the enviroment.He raised concerns and issues and warned of unforeseen consequences.But now,with his Third Industrial Revolution,Rifkin’s doing the exact opposite.He’s getting people all excited and anxious to make the switch to renewable energy.The problem is Rifkin’s not raising concerns and issues with renewable energy like he did
    with Biotechnology.He’s not questioning the cost,safety and reliability of hydrogen and battery storage and the toxic chemicals and materials used in the production of solar panels.Not to mention
    the impact solar panels and wind generators will have on society and the enviroment.That war of
    Rifkin’s against Biotechnology was a farce.His REAL beef was with the Nuclear and Petrochemical
    industries.Rifkin was angry that he couldn’t file lawsuits against them because people depend on these industries for power and fuel so he took it out on the Biotechnology industry instead.This is
    why Rifkin is urging people to make the switch to renewable energy.He’s trying to get revenge on the Nuclear and Petrochemical industries for what they’re doing to the planet.

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