Despite their clean-energy appeal, wind farms have a reputation for mowing down birds and bats. Much of the "bird blender" blame rests with one of the first farms, poorly placed on Altamont Pass near San Francisco ("Birds, blades and bats," HCN, 5/02/05). But even with wildlife-friendly siting and better turbine technology, hundreds of thousands of birds, including bald and golden eagles, still perish each year.
Killing most birds, even accidentally, is illegal under the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act. But unlike other energy producers, wind farmers have not been punished – until now. On Nov. 22, Duke Energy pled guilty in the first federal prosecution of wind farm bird deaths and was fined $1 million for the 160 birds, including 14 golden eagles, its Wyoming turbines killed over four years. Duke is now installing radar to warn of incoming eagles. Meanwhile, a new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule will extend the five-year permits allowing limited eagle deaths at wind farms to 30 years.