Australian independent review spurs lawsuit over wind turbine noise

ABC News

Gippsland, Australia, September 13,m 2018

Noise from a wind farm in Victoria’s Gippsland is having an adverse impact on the comfort and wellbeing of residents living at surrounding properties, a new report commissioned by a local council has found.

According to the South Gippsland Shire Council, this could set a new precedent in how planning decisions are made about where wind turbines are built.

The council said the report it commissioned into the Bald Hills Wind Farm at Tarwin Lower found two surrounding properties were experiencing noise levels that were problematic.

Council chief executive Tim Tamlin said the report by public health consultants James C Smith and Associates found noise from the wind farm, which has operated since 2015, could be having a negative impact on residents’ personal comfort and wellbeing.

Supreme Court orders independent report

It is the latest development in an almost two-year saga involving the wind farm, which has 52 turbines on farmland about 150 kilometres south-east of Melbourne.

The report came after a resident living near the wind farm lodged a “nuisance” complaint about two years ago under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act, claiming noise from the wind farm turbines was affecting nearby houses.

An initial investigation by the council found there was no impact from the wind turbines.

But the complainant challenged the decision and the Supreme Court ordered the council to commission an independent report — costing more than $33,000.

The report found “wind farm noise was clearly audible” at two residences with windows and doors shut.

And in one case the noise was so loud at a neighbouring house it “intruded into conversation between investigators and (the couple)”.

“Thus corroborating that wind farm noise was clearly audible in dwellings and, at times, intrusive.”

The report also found “there is a nuisance caused by windfarm noise in that the noise is audible frequently within individual residences and this noise is adversely impacting on the personal comfort and wellbeing of individuals”.

Clients entitled to sleep: lawyer

The impact on people’s health from wind turbines, known as wind turbine syndrome, has long been debated.

A new study on wind farm noise is being undertaken by Flinders University in Adelaide in a bid to establish once and for all how noise from wind turbines can affect health.

The lawyer representing residents opposed to the Bald Hills Wind Farm, Dominica Tannock from DST Legal, said her clients were entitled to be compensated for any noise intrusion on their properties.

“What I would say is that our clients weren’t objectors to the wind farm, they were objectors to the noise emissions from the wind farm that are obtrusive and affecting their sleep.

“The council has to make a decision, as to whether there is a nuisance under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act. We say the council must adopt the report of its experts.”

Ms Tannock said if they made that decision, then action must be taken to remedy it.

“My clients like where they live, and they have been living there for many years. The argument is that the wind farm should not intrude into their homes.

“And if it does, then the wind farm may have to stop operating at night, if they can’t control the noise emissions. And, or, they might have to pay my client’s compensation.

“My clients are entitled to sleep in their homes.

“The wind farm must comply with the noise emissions of the permit and it also must not be a noise nuisance. It’s an offence under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act to cause noise emissions on another person’s land.”

Councils call for wind farm clarity

Mr Tamlin said the council was trying work out the implications of the report and wanted the Victorian Government to provide clarity on the issue.

He said local councils could effectively be sidelined from the approval process for a wind energy plant, via the relevant planning act, but then have to deal with the fallout if there was a complaint under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act.

“The wind farm has a planning permit, under the Planning and Environment Act, to operate and is compliant with its noise standards,” Mr Tamlin said.

However, he said the consultants’ report had found noise nuisance for two surrounding residents, causing a conflict between the two relevant pieces of legislation.

“Then council finds itself in the middle and what’s worse, our residents find themselves in a situation which should never has occurred,” Mr Tamlin said.

“This is something the Victorian Government needs to resolve, for the sake of the renewable energy sector and all those involved in the establishment of wind farms.”

The report comes in the same week that Premier Daniel Andrews revealed the Government had signed contracts with six solar and wind farms, guaranteeing a minimum wholesale energy price for the companies.

It is an issue the peak body for councils, the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV), also wants addressed.

At the MAV’s state conference in May, the association agreed to lobby the Victorian Government to, “address inconsistencies between two pieces of legislation which covers wind farm approval and regulation”.

A statement from the Bald Hills wind farm said they “are not in a position to make any further comment” until they have had more time to review the report but said the operation was “compliant with the noise limits stipulated in its planning permit”.

A spokesperson for the Victorian Planning Minister, Richard Wynne, said there is a thorough assessment for all wind farm applications which considers factors such as noise and the potential impact on nearby residences.

“The project has complied with the noise limits in its permit conditions, it is up to the council to assess the findings of this report and determine if further action is required,” the spokesperson for Mr Wynne said.

Key points

  • An independent report commissioned by the South Gippsland Council found that two properties were experiencing problematic noise levels
  • The report followed the lodging of a nuisance complaint by a local resident under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act
  • The Supreme Court ordered the council to commission the independent report
  • South Gippsland Shire Council is demanding clarity from the State Government

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