Threat to eagles shuts down three Xcel Energy wind turbines for months

The eagle has landed in rural Mower County, shutting down three turbines at the Pleasant Valley Wind farm for a month so far in hopes of preventing a deadly collision between the federally protected bird and churning blades just 200 feet away.

Xcel Energy discovered a pair of adult eagles and at least one eaglet high in a tree in a windbreak between two turbines near State Highway 56 and County Road 1 on March 10, immediately reporting the threat to federal Fish and Wildlife Service authorities.

In addition to idling the turbines closest to the nest through the summer, Xcel Energy plans to pursue a federal Eagle Take Permit that would protect the utility from liability in the event of an eagle death, according to an April 14 letter to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.
“We’re working with the state agencies and our environmental team to make observations and make any plans that we need to,” said Randy Fordice, a Xcel Energy media relations representative.

Bald eagles are no longer on the endangered species list, but killing bald eagles remains a felony punishable by a $250,000 fine and prison time. FWS generally exempts wind farms from prosecution for the unintentional “taking” of an eagle-any activity that may accidentally result in the disturbance or death of an eagle-such as in the production of wind power.

“The Company intends to apply for a Permit to Remove or Relocate an Eagle Nest and, depending on the outcome of the monitoring activities, an Eagle Take Permit. The Company will provide additional information and discuss this decision with the agencies further as survey data is collected and flight patterns are recorded,” Xcel environmental analyst Jeff Berrington said in the letter to state regulators.

Yet wind power opponents and some environmental groups have criticized the feds for giving the industry a pass on the issue of eagle and bird mortality rates.