Australian judge orders wind turbine developers to pay damages to neighbors for sleep loss
In 2021, Center of the American Experiment partnered with energy journalist Robert Bryce to publish Not in Our Backyard, a report that catalogs the growing pushback against wind and solar facilities in rural America.
One of the reasons local opposition has grown is due to the noise made by wind turbines. Bryce writes:
For more than a decade, rural landowners have been complaining about the noise produced by wind-energy projects. In 2008, a Missouri man, Charlie Porter, filed a lawsuit against a wind developer after several turbines were built near his home. He claimed the noise from the turbines was causing sleeplessness, anxiety, and dizziness.
(Porter later settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed amount of money. In a 2019 phone interview, he told the author of this report that the company that owned the wind project had written him a “big check” and that he was not allowed to discuss the litigation or the amount of the settlement.)
In Australia, a judge has awarded a settlement for a quarter of a million dollars to another landowner for similar claims. You can read the story below from ABC news.
Alinta says court wind farm ruling will have ‘dramatic’ and chilling effect on renewable energy investment
One of Australia’s biggest renewable energy investors says a court’s decision to uphold complaints against a Victorian wind farm could have “dramatic” and chilling effects on the country’s transition away from fossil fuels.
Alinta boss Jeff Dimery, whose company is one of Australia’s biggest private energy providers, said the ruling by Victoria’s Supreme Court would be a “shock” to companies planning to invest billions of dollars in new wind farms.
In its decision, the court backed claims brought against the 106MW Bald Hills wind farm in the southeast of the state by neighbors who argued they were unable to sleep because of noise from the project.
Justice Melinda Richards ordered the project’s operators to switch off parts of the wind farm at night until the noise levels could be reduced to an acceptable level.
She also told the operators to pay aggrieved neighbors more than a quarter of a million dollars in costs and damages.
Mr. Dimery said the decision would send “ripples” of doubt through the renewable energy industry across the country given the potential precedent it sets for other wind farms.
He said the longer-term implications were potentially significant, noting the ruling could scare away developers by making wind farms harder to build and less financially attractive.
“It’s a disaster,” Mr. Dimery said.
“This court decision certainly changes the risk appetite for investors.
“I think there’ll be some fairly serious ramifications off the back of this.”
Net-zero goals ‘just got harder’
According to Mr. Dimery, Australia was already facing a difficult tasking in building the amount of renewable energy needed to meet the country’s plans to become carbon neutral by 2050.
He said the Bald Hills decision was likely to make the job even harder and highlighted the need for governments and energy providers to ensure they get affected communities onside.
“You can set targets and say they’re achievable from an academic or technical point of view,” he said.
“But then we all live in the real world.
“In the real world for instance, a couple of weeks back there were a whole lot of tractors parked up in Spring Street in Melbourne in front of Parliament House, with farmers protesting about transmission lines being built in the west of Victoria to facilitate renewable energy zones.
“We ourselves had a couple onshore wind projects on the east coast of Australia that were commercially feasible but unfortunately didn’t have community support to advance.
“What this Bald Hills decision highlights to me is the difficulty of the actual transition that we’re undertaking to reduce carbon emission from the stationary energy sector in Australia.”
Costs, bills inevitably to rise
For Mr. Dimery, the ruling also underscored the cost pressures that would emerge as Australia accelerated its push away from coal- and gas-fired power plants towards renewable energy.
He said although wind and solar farms provided cheap electricity while they were producing, they were available less often than conventional plants.
On top of this, he said major and expensive upgrades to the national grid would be required to handle the extra renewable energy needed to meet Australia’s emissions targets.
Noting “there are not enough sites on land on the east coast to replace coal-fired generation” with wind farms, Mr. Dimery said offshore wind projects were one of the only viable replacement options.
However, he said offshore wind farms were typically three times more expensive than onshore projects and this would eventually filter through to energy bills.
“I think the magnitude of what needs to be achieved has absolutely been underestimated,” he said.
“There’s a misconception that bringing more and more renewable energy into the market will reduce power prices over time.”
Infrastructure Capital Group, which owns Bald Hills, said it was “absorbing the judgement and its implications”.
Nicholas Aberle from the Clean Energy Council said the industry took turbine noise “very seriously”.
Dr. Aberle also noted that a new set of laws and guidelines had been developed to regulate wind farm noise following consultation with the Victorian government.
“This case shows the importance of wind farms being proactive in dealing with noise complaints,” Dr. Aberle said.