The owner of a Barbour County wind energy facility has been sentenced to pay $30,000 in fines after pleading guilty to two federal charges related to the deaths in 2011 of hundreds of migratory birds, court records show.
AES Laurel Mountain LLC was sentenced earlier this month by U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael J. Aloi after reaching a plea agreement with U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld.
The company was sentenced to pay the maximum fine of $15,000 for each of two misdemeanor counts of “unlawful taking” of migratory birds, a crime under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Charges were originally filed against AES Laurel Mountain in late January and a sentencing hearing was held on Feb. 12. Copies of legal briefs about the sentencing were placed under seal, and were not available to the public on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia’s online computer system.
The case concerns events in October 2011 at AES Laurel Mountain’s Battery Energy Storage System, or BESS, located near the company’s wind power generation facility at Belington.
In court records, prosecutors said that the BESS complex included 24 rectangular structures which served as battery containers. Surrounding the complex were five metal utility poles mounted with eight 250-watt steady-burning, high-pressure sodium lamps.
“Essentially two-headed spotlights, the lamps emitted a white light from dusk until dawn so as to illuminate the entire BESS facility,” according to court records.
Prosecutors alleged that on Oct. 1 and Oct. 2, 2011, songbirds migrating through the area became “trapped” in the light of the BESS facility during weather conditions that featured fog and low clouds.
“While flying through and around the complex, the birds collided with battery containers and wires,” prosecutors alleged. “A total of 483 migratory birds died as a result of blunt force impact with an object, lacerations, or exhaustion.”
Most of the birds killed were blackpoll warblers, according to court records.
Prosecutors said that the company had a legal duty to “implement reasonable, prudent, and effective measures to avoid or minimize the impact of lighting on migratory birds” and to train and supervise employees” to comply with the migratory bird protection law.
“In the absence of instruction, training or direction to the contrary, employees in charge of operating and maintaining the BESS complex kept the ... lights on all night every night, automatically lit and extinguished by dust-to-dawn photo cells, as a security measure,” prosecutors said.