Last update: August 18, 2014
Note: A formal report on this material was published August 15, 2014 on the Energy And Policy Institute site. News stories have been published in about a dozen news sites and energy journals worldwide, including Huffington Post, The Australian and RenewEconomy.
Since 1998 there have been 49 hearings held under rules of legal evidence in at least five English-speaking countries and four types of courts regarding wind energy, noise and health. Forty-six assessed the evidence and found no potential for harm to human health, and the sole outlier is an instructive but unique case.
To find the decisions, I searched legal databases of environmental, utility, civil and higher courts in each of Canada, New Zealand, the USA, the United Kingdom and Australia; in the USA this required state-by-state searches. I also searched anti-wind campaign sites for the Waubra Foundation and the US National Wind Watch for cases they cited. I requested contacts in the wind industry and wind advocacy organizations to provide court cases as well. While well over 150 potential decisions were found and assessed and 47 found that pertained to noise and health, this does not mean that every single case has been identified. Courts in Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands have also found no connection between wind turbines and health issues per reports, but records are not in English.
This is mostly due to Ontario, with eleven separate Environmental Review Tribunals (ERT) testing the evidence and the relative experts, as well as two higher court cases. The mechanism of the ERT was specifically referenced in the Renewable Energy Act to provide recourse related to specific wind farms, and it’s being heavily exercised.
The province of Alberta has seen two significant cases in its Alberta Utility Commission court, and the province of Saskatchewan saw a single civil suit related to wind energy and health.
All Canadian courts found in that wind farms wouldn’t and don’t cause health impacts with the setbacks in place.
Next up is Australia with ten cases over its 2.7 GW of capacity and 23 million populace.
The state of Victoria appears to be the Ontario of Australia, with seven civil suits.
The states of South Australia and New South Wales saw three cases in their environment and resource courts.
All Australian cases found that wind farms wouldn’t cause health impacts with the setbacks in place.
The United Kingdom has seen the next highest numbers of cases with nine hearings over its more than 10 GW of wind energy capacity and 63 million populace.
The county of Devon saw the most cases with three bringing evidence related to wind energy, noise and health. Denbighshire had two cases, and various other counties and Scotland each had one case.
All United Kingdom cases found that wind farms wouldn’t cause health impacts with the setbacks in place.
In one outlier case, a wind farm complied fully with the noise standards but the Inspector charged with assessing the wind farm siting felt the combination of wind farms in the area would cause discernible noise on more evenings in households than was acceptable; this was upheld as being within the authority of the Inspector upon appeal.
The United States doesn’t live up to its litigious reputation as it only eight court cases in all Appeal and higher courts in all states that pertain to wind energy, noise and health concerns over its 61 GW of wind energy capacity and 314 million people.
States in the northeast are overly represented in cases with five of the eight with the other three in the central states.
Seven cases were aligned with the rest of cases in other parts of the world finding no harm from wind energy at the setbacks in place.
The USA does have the only case where a wind farm was considered to have caused harm. This case was brought by a single family near a pair of wind farms erected on the municipal wastewater treatment plant by the town of Falmouth, Massachusetts. The judgment includes the fascinating statement that dental harm occurred, along with other types of medical ailments. This single small wind farm is referenced world wide by anti-wind advocacy groups as if it is representative instead of unique, and distinctly odd.
New Zealand, somewhat surprisingly given its size and reputation, managed five environmental and civil hearings over wind energy, noise and health over 0.6 GW of wind energy capacity and 4.4 million people.
It too has an Environment Court structure designed to allow tests of proposed land use, which is where four of cases were heard, in addition to one higher court case.
Only one case in New Zealand went against a wind farm, the Te Rere Hau wind project, and that was only because noise was greater than anticipated, not because the wind noise was above standards or in any way harmful to health. This case is widely misrepresented and selectively quoted by anti-wind campaigning organizations such as Waubra: The Foundation and National Wind Watch.
As can be seen from the following table, the raw numbers become startling when compared to both capacity and population of the countries. The United States is seen to have by far the lowest incidence of litigation and legal procedures, while New Zealand shoots into the lead. This is over very small numbers of cases, so not much can truly be inferred from this, but it is interesting nonetheless. All number in the table are as at February 2014. It would seem that there is one court case per 10 million people and for every two GW of wind energy to date for English speaking countries.
One obvious conclusion that can be reached in reviewing the various courts’ decisions is that many people who are put forward as expert witnesses often bring a great deal of passion, but very little actual expertise. See this list of now fourteen ‘experts’ who have been rejected entirely or the entirety of their testimony dismissed as of low evidentiary value to see that most anti-wind cases are built not on the cream of the crop, but on something else that floats to the surface of liquids.
Here’s the complete list of cases that have been assessed to date with links to the decisions from the wind farm name.
|2014||Ontario, Canada||Bow Lake||Environment|
|2014||Ontario, Canada||South Kent||Environment|
|2014||Ontario, Canada||K2 Wind Huron County||Environment|
|2014||Ontario, Canada||Ernestown Wind Farm||Environment|
|2014||Ontario, Canada||Ostrander Point||Higher|
|2014||Alberta, Canada||Bull Creek||Utility|
|2013||Ontario, Canada||Melancthon Extension||Environment|
|2013||Ontario, Canada||Ostrander Point||Environment|
|2013||Victoria, Australia||Cherry Tree||Civil|
|2013||New Zealand||Te Rere Hau||Higher|
|2013||New York, USA||Monticello Winds||Higher|
|2013||Oregon, USA||Helix Wind Power Facility||Higher|
|2013||Northamptonshire, United Kingdom||Spring Farm Ridge||Higher|
|2012||Ontario, Canada||Haldimand Summerhaven project||Environment|
|2012||Ontario, Canada||Haldimand Grand Renewable Wind||Environment|
|2012||Ontario, Canada||South Kent||Environment|
|2012||New Zealand||Te Rere Hau||Environment|
|2012||Maine, USA||Saddleback Ridge||Higher|
|2012||Alberta, Canada||Heritage Wind Farm||Utility|
|2011||South Australia, Australia||Allendale East||Environment|
|2011||Ontario, Canada||Chatham Kent Suncor||Environment|
|2011||Ontario, Canada||Wind farm enabling legislation||Higher|
|2011||New Zealand||Mt Cass||Environment|
|2011||Maine, USA||Record Hill||Higher|
|2011||Devon, United Kingdom||Den Brook||Higher|
|2010||Saskatchewan, Canada||Red Lily||Civil|
|2010||New Zealand||Project Central Wind||Environment|
|2010||South Australia, Australia||Hallett||Environment|
|2010||New South Wales, Australia||Gullen Range||Environment|
|2010||Victoria, Australia||Sisters Wind Farm||Civil|
|2010||Ohio, USA||Champaign County||Higher|
|2010||Cumbria, United Kingdom||Crosslands Farm||Higher|
|2010||Denbighshire, United Kingdom||Gorsedd Bran||Higher|
|2010||Devon, United Kingdom||Den Brook||Higher|
|2010||Denbighshire, United Kingdom||Gorsedd Bran||Higher|
|2009||Pennsylvania, USA||Laurel Ridge||Higher|
|2009||Norfolk, United Kingdom||Lotus Cars||Higher|
|2008||Devon, United Kingdom||Fullabrook Down||Higher|
|2007||Victoria, Australia||Hepburn Wind||Civil|
|2006||Wisconsin, USA||Twin Creeks Wind Park||Higher|
|2006||Scotland, United Kingdom||Borrowston Mains||Higher|
|1998||Victoria, Australia||Cape Bridgewater||Civil|
* Type of Court Case
- Environment – A court dedicated to assessing environmental. land and resource usage issues – ERT in Ontario, ERD in South Australia, Environment in NZ
- Civil – Civil case in general civil courts including VCAT in Victoria, Australia
- Higher – High, Superior or Supreme courts which have general competence and typically unlimited jurisdiction with regard to civil and criminal legal cases.
- Utility – utility regulatory panels
For more details on the cases including key quotes, please see this .pdf file: Health-related court cases. As always, if you see errors or omissions, please let me know so that I can correct them.
- How To Defend Against Nuisance Lawsuits Wind Projects by Brian M. Moore, Fred J. Fresard and Timothy M. Kuhn, http://www.worldservicesgroup.com/publications.asp?action=article&artid=4762
- Wind Energy: Case Law Updates and Litigation Issues (September 2010) Sharon M Mattox Vinson & Elkins LLP, https://texaswindclearinghouse.us/uploads/3-Sharon_Mattox-Vinson___Elkins-Case_Law_Updates_and_Litigation_Issues.pdf