RAWLINS — Rocky Mountain Power recently received the go-ahead from Carbon County to build a 30-foot avian observation tower near its Seven Mile Hill wind farm located between Hanna and Medicine Bow.
The construction of the tower is part of Rocky Mountain’s Informed Curtailment Program, which began in 2012, that has since been rolled into a court mandated Migratory Bird Compliance Plan.
“We received a permit from the Carbon County Planning and Zoning Commission, and we have begun construction on that project,” said Rocky Mountain Power Spokeswoman Margaret Oler. “It will take two to three weeks to complete. It will have a 10-foot square building on top of the tower which will be used to observe bird activity.”
The company’s contractor will focus their attention specifically on eagle activity, Oler said.
“Based on a set of protocols, if they see any behavior that put birds in danger we would curtail the turbine use,” she said. “They will have a 360-degree view and there is also a system in the tower to allow the observers to control the turbines in real time.”
Oler said workers used to monitor bird activity by “patrolling in trucks and using radios to call in findings.”
Rocky Mountain Power is one of three business units of PacifiCorp Energy, which services approximately 1.8 million customers in six states.
In December 2014, PacifiCorp entered a guilty plea in U.S. District Court, accepting responsibility for two misdemeanor counts of violating the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
The charges were filed following the company’s discovery of 38 golden eagles carcasses and 336 other protected birds, including hawks, blackbirds, larks, wrens and sparrows at its Seven Mile Hill and Glenrock/Rolling Hills wind projects in Carbon and Converse Counties.
The grim discoveries were made between 2009 and 2014.
During the planning phase in 2007 and construction in 2008, PacifiCorp’s wind farms were not subject to the federal standards the industry must follow now. However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) had issued interim guidance on how wind project developers could avoid impacts to wildlife in 2003.
The developing standards were later replaced with a “tiered” approach outlined in the agency’s 2012 Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines. One year later, the FWS also released its Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance.
In documents presented in court, prosecutors alleged that PacifiCorp Energy failed to make all reasonable efforts to build the projects in a way that would avoid the risk of avian deaths by collision with turbine blades, despite prior guidance from the FWS.
However, the company was recognized as cooperating with the FWS investigation and had already implemented measures aimed at minimizing avian deaths at the sites.
Under the settlement, PacifiCorp was required to pay $400,000 in fines, $200,000 in restitution to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and $1.9 million to the congressionally chartered National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to help protect golden eagles near the company’s wind facilities.
In addition to the fines, PacifiCorp was placed on five years probation, during which it was ordered to implement an environmental compliance plan aimed at preventing bird deaths at the company’s commercial wind projects in Wyoming.
According to court documents, PacifiCorp will spend approximately $600,000 per year implementing its compliance plan.