US Courts Ordering Wind Power Operators to Buy Out Noise-Affected Neighbours at Market Rates

Life next to industrial wind turbines is a living hell for all too many rural residents.

Practically incessant turbine-generated low-frequency noise and infra-sound drives neighbours nuts, preventing them from sleeping in – and otherwise enjoying the comforts of – their very own homes.

An Australian Court found long-term exposure to wind turbine noise to be a pathway to disease: Australian Court Finds Wind Turbine Noise Exposure a ‘Pathway to Disease’: Waubra Foundation Vindicated

And that decision only adds to the wind industry’s greatest fear that, one day soon, the unvarnished law will be applied in favour of their thousands of victims.

The common law tort of nuisance protects property rights by preventing the unreasonable interference with the use and enjoyment of land by, among other things, excessive noise: Judge finds case to answer in Falmouth Nuisance Claim

Wind power outfits alive to the risk of multi-million-dollar payouts bully and coerce neighbours into entering what are euphemistically called ‘good neighbour agreements’, by which the neighbour signs away every statutory and common law right that might protect them, in exchange for a paltry few thousand dollars a year: Wind Farm Neighbours Forced to Sign Away All Legal Rights in ‘Good Neighbour Agreements’

That Faustian ‘deal’ literally involves signing your life away.

The next line in the wind industry’s ‘defence’ to threats of legal action is to quietly purchase their victims properties, using bullet-proof gag clauses to shut them up, forevermore: Victorian Planning Department involved in Waubra Wind Farm Non-Compliance Cover Up

In the US, actions in nuisance pursued by neighbours have got as far as having the jury impaneled – only to be settled in a panic – before the plaintiffs got to put their stories of intolerable suffering at the hands of the wind industry to their peers: US Wind Farm Operator Settles to Shut Down Neighbours’ Dynamite Damages Case

The wind industry operates like a team of state-sanctioned thieves, destroying the value of neighbouring properties with complete impunity, if not active encouragement by governments and regulators: No Retreat & No Surrender: Wind Industry’s Victims Left Furious at Government Inaction

The farmers that do business with them fair no better: SA Farmers Paid $1 Million to Host 19 Turbines Tell Senate they “Would Never Do it Again” due to “Unbearable” Sleep-Destroying Noise

Wind power outfits pay peanuts to spear their turbines into the back paddocks of the gullible and the naïve. And pay absolutely nothing to gut the value of their neighbour’s land.

However, in that litigious land of the free and home of the brave, the US of A, courts are taking a different view.

Applying the long-standing rule that a man’s home is his castle, US Judges are bringing the hammer down in a growing list of cases, where the wind industry is finally being forced to properly compensate their victims for the very substantial losses suffered.

Wind Farm Nuisance Matter Resolved – Buy the Homeowners Out!
LPB Network
Roger A McEowen
8 June 2018

Overview

Wind “farms” can present land-use conflict issues for nearby landowners by creating nuisance-related issues associated with turbine noise, eyesore from flicker effects, broken blades, ice-throws, and collapsing towers, for example.

Courts have a great deal of flexibility in fashioning a remedy to deal with nuisance issues. A recent order by a public regulatory commission is an illustration of this point.

Wind Farm Nuisance Litigation

Nuisance litigation involving large-scale “wind farms” is in its early stages, but there have been a few important court decisions. A case decided by the West Virginia Supreme Court in 2007 illustrates the land-use conflict issues that wind-farms can present. In Burch, et al. v. Nedpower Mount Storm, LLC and Shell Windenergy, Inc., 220 W. Va. 443, 647 S.E.2d 879 (2007), the Court ruled that a proposed wind farm consisting of approximately 200 wind turbines in close proximity to residential property could constitute a nuisance. Seven homeowners living within a two-mile radius from the location of where the turbines were to be erected sought a permanent injunction against the construction and operation of the wind farm on the grounds that they would be negatively impacted by turbine noise, the eyesore of the flicker effect of the light atop the turbines, potential danger from broken blades, blades throwing ice, collapsing towers and a reduction in their property values.

The court held that even though the state had approved the wind farm, the common-law doctrine of nuisance still applied. While the court found that the wind-farm was not a nuisance per se, the court noted that the wind-farm could become a nuisance. As such the plaintiffs’ allegations were sufficient to state a claim permitting the court to enjoin the creation of the wind farm.

In another case involving nuisance-related aspects of large-scale wind farms, the Kansas Supreme Court upheld a county ordinance banning commercial wind farms in the county. Zimmerman v. Board of County Commissioners, 218 P.3d 400 (Kan. 2009). The court determined that the county had properly followed state statutory procedures in adopting the ordinance, and that the ordinance was reasonable based on the county’s consideration of aesthetics, ecology, flora and fauna of the Flint Hills.

The Court cited the numerous adverse effects of commercial wind farms including damage to the local ecology and the prairie chicken habitat (including breeding grounds, nesting and feeding areas and flight patterns) and the unsightly nature of large wind turbines. The Court also noted that commercial wind farms have a negative impact on property values, and that agricultural and nature-based tourism would also suffer.

Buy-Out Ordered

A recent settlement order of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (Commission) requires a wind energy firm to buy-out two families whose health and lives were materially disaffected by a wind farm complex near Albert Lea, Minnesota. As a result, it is likely that the homes will be demolished so that the wind farm can proceed unimpeded by local landowners that might object to the operation. That’s because the order stated that if the homes remained and housed new residents, those residents could not waive the wind energy company’s duty to meet noise standards even if the homeowners were willing to live with violations of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s ambient noise standard in exchange for payment or through some other agreement.

In re Wisconsin Power and Light, Co., No. ET-6657/WS-08-573, Minn. Pub. Util. Commission (Jun. 5, 2018) has a rather lengthy procedural history preceding the Commission’s order.

On October 20, 2009, the Commission issued a large wind energy conversion system site permit to Wisconsin Power and Light Company (WPL) for the approximately 200-megawatt first phase of the Bent Tree Wind Project, located in Freeborn County, Minnesota. The project commenced commercial operation in February 2011.

On August 24, 2016, the Commission issued an order requiring noise monitoring and a noise study at the project site. During the period of September 2016 through February 2018 several landowners in the vicinity filed over 20 letters regarding the health effects that they claim were caused by the project.

On September 28, 2017, the Department of Commerce Energy Environmental Review Analysis Unit (EERA) filed a post-construction noise assessment report for the project, identifying 10 hours of non-compliance with Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) ambient noise standards during the two-week monitoring period.

On February 7, 2018, EERA filed a phase-two post construction noise assessment report concluding that certain project turbines are a significant contributor to the exceedances of MPCA ambient noise standards at certain wind speeds. The next day, WPL filed a letter informing the Commission that it would respond to the Phase 2 report at a later date and would immediately curtail three turbines that were part of the project, two of which were identified in the phase 2 report.

On February 20, 2018, the landowners filed a Motion for Order to Show Cause and for Hearing, requesting that the Commission issue an Order to Show Cause why the site permit for the project should not be revoked, and requested a contested-case hearing on the matter.

On April 19, 2018, WPL filed with the Commission a Notice of Confidential Settlement Agreement and Joint Recommendation and Request, under which WPL entered into a confidential settlement with each landowner, by which the parties agreed to the terms of sale of their properties to WPL, execution of easements on the property, and release of all the landowners’ claims against WPL. The agreement also outlined the terms by which the agreement would be executed.

The finality of the agreement was conditioned upon the Commission making specific findings on which the parties and the Department agreed. These findings include, among others: dismissal of the landowners’ February 2018 motion and all other noise-related complaints filed in this matter; termination of the required curtailment of turbines; transfer of possession of each property to WPL; and a requirement that compliance filing be filed with commission.

The Commission determined that resolving the dispute and the terms of the agreement were in the public interest and would result in a reasonable and prudent resolution of the issues raised in the landowner’s complaints. Therefore, the Commission approved the agreement with the additional requirement that upon the sale of either of the landowners’ property, WPL shall file with the Commission notification of the sale and indicate whether the property will be used as a residence.

If the property is intended to be used as a residence after sale or upon lease, the permittee must file with the Commission several things – notification of sale or lease; documentation of present compliance with noise standards of turbines; documentation of any written notice to the potential residence of past noise studies alleging noise standards exceedances, and if applicable, allegations of present noise standards exceedances related to the property; and any mitigation plans or other relevant information.

Conclusion

The order issued in the Minnesota matter is not entirely unique. Several decades ago, the Arizona Supreme Court ordered a real estate developer to pay the cost of a cattle feedlot to move their feeding operations further away from the area where the developer was expanding into. Spur Industries, Inc. v. Del E. Webb Development Co., 108 Ariz. 178, 494 P.2d 700 (1972).

However, the bottom-line is that the matter in Minnesota is an illustration of what can happen to a rural area when a wind energy company initiates development in the community.
LPB Network

Now, buy me out at pre-wind farm value.

About stopthesethings

We are a group of citizens concerned about the rapid spread of industrial wind power generation installations across Australia.

Comments

  1. Reblogged this on Patti Kellar.

  2. Windfarm Wars UK (BBC 2) continues to yield some interesting links.

    The link below is to an Aerodynamic Modulation or AM report published in 2007 by the University of Salford, Manchester.

    https://usir.salford.ac.uk/1554/1/Salford_Uni_Report_Turbine_Sound.pdf

    And the ETSU-R-97 Noise report that the UK wind industry uses.

    https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/49869/ETSU_Full_copy__Searchable_.pdf

    This is criticised by the Inspector, Andrew Pykett heading the Den Brook wind farm Inquiry. He states that a review is long overdue. He imposes an AM condition on the RES wind farm as part of its planning permit. He also suggests more research of the above University of Salford report stating it, “…would be prudent”.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/tv/2011/05/windfarm-wars.shtml

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Den_Brook_Wind_Farm

  3. Ted Hartke says:

    APEX Wind Energy purchased three homes in Vermilion County Illinois. APEX knows they have a problem.

  4. caroloverland says:

    The Minnesota administrative process was long, and could have been shortened with more aggressive actions at the outset. I represented the landowners, was retained way late in their struggles, and jump started the Commerce studies in Order to Show Cause and ultimate settlement agreement. The landowners of course did not want to leave their homes, but by the time we were negotiating, they just wanted out. I would suspect that other states have a complaint process embedded into permits that could/should be utilized by affected landowners to get relief. Wading through that administrative process would be easier to navigate, the state must address permit violations, and it’s much less costly to landowners than suing the companies.

    • Thanks for the comments, caroloverland. This one is striking:

      “The landowners of course did not want to leave their homes, but by the time we were negotiating, they just wanted out.”

      Sounds like Extortion.

      Infrasound emitted by wind turbines travels long distances and is a culprit of many of the adverse effects suffered by neighbours. So identifying and curtailing a couple of troublesome turbines that were found to exceed deficient noise regulations probably didn’t eliminate the exposure risks for the people living nearby.

      I don’t know the particulars of this Minnesota settlement, but have seen so-called “buy-outs” in other places. If throughout the “negotiation” the landowners and or their children were being injured or threatened, while deprived of the amenity and security of their homes, then that doesn’t sound like a fair dealing process.

      Anyway, good thing they got “out”. Hope they got lots of compensation for being the victims of such violent, aggravated, profit-oriented, intentional industrial pollution.

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