A Supreme Court wind turbine noise nuisance case has revealed a whole lot more than the wind industry would have liked.
The case being pursued by farmers in the Victorian Supreme Court against the operator of the Bald Hills wind farm (see our post here) has already uncovered the fact that the wind farm operator’s noise consultant, Marshall Day Acoustics had destroyed mountains of (unhelpful) acoustic data; MDA has been destroying and deleting the unhelpful noise data it’s gathered from non-compliant wind farms across Victoria for years, including at Bald Hills, which, is apparently why the defendant wind farm operator decided to not call any of MDA’s staff to give evidence during the trial.
Then there was the gobsmackingly audacious attempt by the Federal Wind Farm Commissioner, Andrew Dyer to influence the outcome of the case by contacting the trial judge directly in order to “assist” her Honour to reach the ‘correct’ result; from Dyer’s perspective, meaning a favourable result for the defendant wind farm operator.
Dyer has a well-developed track record for helping wind farm operators to ride roughshod over the interests of their victims (see our post here). But this little effort to interfere with the course of justice topped them all.
In another twist, unbeknownst to its long-suffering victims, the operator had sued the turbines’ manufacturer, Senvion for damages (obtaining $11.7m in compensation) on the ground that the noise generated by its turbines included ‘tonal’ noise – ‘tonality’.
Tonality makes the already soul-destroying noise from wind turbines even more annoying, which is why the presence of tonality is penalised under wind farm noise guidelines. In this case, it also meant that the noise generated by the Bald Hills wind farm was and is well above the noise limit set by its planning permit.
As The Age reports, at the same time the wind farm operator was ignoring the hundreds of noise complaints from neighbours (stonewalling them with the usual mixture of lies and corporate gaslighting), it was pursuing the manufacturer of the turbines because they were ‘tonal’ and too noisy.
Wind farm owners denied turbines were too loud, yet claimed compensation for them
11 October 2021
A Gippsland wind farm was receiving nearly $12 million in compensation payments for loud, faulty turbines despite denying they were causing a noise disturbance to local farmers, who are now suing the company.
The Supreme Court heard that Infrastructure Capital Group, owners of Bald Hills Wind Farm, received an $11.7 million damages payment from the turbine’s manufacturers due to a gearbox tonality issue.
The manufacturer, Senvion, told them about the malfunction in 2017. However, the wind farm continued to operate and under cross-examination Infrastructure Capital Group director James Arthur admitted none of the turbine gearboxes had been repaired or replaced since 2017, in part because the manufacturer became insolvent in 2019.
In the latest of a series of “David versus Goliath” wind farm cases in Victoria, local farmers John Zakula and Noel Uren are requesting damages for noise disturbance and could demand the wind farm be deactivated for at least some of the day. Infrastructure Capital Group disagrees with claims that its turbines have been causing significant disturbance.
Mr Arthur also conceded during cross-examination that his company had not told Mr Zakula and Mr Uren they were receiving compensation payments at the same time as operating the wind farm.
Speaking to The Sunday Age, Mr Zakula describes the sound of the turbines just over a kilometre from his home as “like a roaring train”.
The 64-year-old bought his property in Tarwin Lower in 2011, building his off-grid home from scratch with an organic farm and solar panels.
His bedroom had a window from floor to ceiling. Within a year of Bald Hills opening in 2015 – around the same time he lodged his first complaint to South Gippsland Shire Council – Mr Zakula pulled out the glass and replaced it with bluestone rocks to try and counter the noise.
“I still hear the turbines over everything. Whenever there’s been a few really bad nights in a row, I drive my car down to the beach and sleep in it. Your body feels tight, your head feels in a compressive state. You just have to get out of the place.”
For Mr Uren, who moved to a different property three years ago, it was the unpredictability of the turbine noise that most triggered him.
“It was worse in cold weather and when the wind came from a certain direction. Some days I’d look at the forecast, see cold days and dread the roaring I knew was on the way.”
The duo’s grievances have culminated in a challenge in the state’s highest court that will hear both sides’ final arguments on Tuesday.
The case typifies an increasingly common dispute in Victoria: residents protesting against the installation of noisy wind farms in what is a rapidly expanding sector.
As the Andrews government pursues its emissions reductions targets of 28 to 33 per cent by 2025 and 45 to 50 per cent by 2030, at least 14 of the state’s 34 wind farms have been built since 2015. A further 22 are under construction or awaiting approval.
Similarly to Mr Zakula and Mr Uren, the construction of a 215-turbine, $2 billion wind farm in Golden Plains Shire, west of Melbourne, has been unsuccessfully challenged by local farmer Hamish Cumming on three occasions.
A Supreme Court challenge against a 26-turbine wind farm by 25 residents from Hawkesdale, south-west Victoria, was also unsuccessful in August.
Win or lose, Mr Zakula, represented by Dominica Tannock from DST Legal, hopes his case emboldens others in his situation to question how the industry operates.
“It’s costing us a fortune against these big multinational mobs. I’d like the entire compliance regime to be investigated and reconsidered after this,” he says.
On the second day of the trial, Justice Melinda Richards started by noting her associate received a phone call that morning from Andrew Dyer, the Australian Energy Infrastructure Commissioner and former national wind farm commissioner.
“Mr Dyer apparently wanted to let me know that there is a range of resources on his office’s website and he also offered to speak with me about issues in the case,” she said.
“Needless to say, I will not be consulting the website and I will not be speaking with Mr Dyer.”
Mr Dyer apologised to the court later that week.
After starting the case as a group of 12 last year, Mr Zakula and Mr Uren are the only remaining plaintiffs following mediation and the death of two group members.
Living off-grid, Mr Zakula is keen to dispel any suggestions he or his neighbours are anti-renewables.
“I live down here to enjoy the environment. I haven’t been able to do that for years.”
via STOP THESE THINGS
October 19, 2021