A two-week-old trial over how much noise the ”world’s largest wind farm” produces and whether that noise devalues property is in the hands of jurors.
A 10-woman, two-man jury deliberated four hours Monday before calling it a day. The jury will take up where it left off at 9 a.m. today in 42nd District Court.
Nine plaintiffs who own land in rural Taylor County sued FPL Energy, owner of the Horse Hollow wind farm. FPL Energy touts its Horse Hollow project, with 735 megawatts generating capacity, as the ”world’s largest wind farm.”
Plaintiffs in the suit claim all that wind is taking away from the quality of their rural life. Before the case went to the jury Monday, Judge John Weeks instructed jurors to answer three questions with regard to each of nine plaintiffs:
# Did the construction of the Horse Hollow wind farm create a private nuisance for any of the plaintiffs?
# Did FPL Energy cause the damage any plaintiff sustained?
# What amount of compensation in cash would fairly compensate any of the defendants for any economic and non-economic damages?
The outcome of the trial could have enormous implications with wind farms sprouting up in many parts of the United States and especially in West Texas.
Jury selection in the trial started Dec. 4, with testimony beginning the next day. On Monday, FPL Energy lawyer Trey Cox of Dallas cited the testimony of Richard Petree, chief appraiser of the Taylor County Central Appraisal District.
Petree said he granted landowners neighboring the wind turbines a 10 percent reduction in property appraisals, based on his gut feelings.
Petree said he had to judge by his instinct because he doesn’t have enough sales data to use as a basis for reductions. The loss of value was due to the visual impact of the turbines, Cox quoted Petree.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Steve Thompson of Houston suggested the plaintiffs lost as much as 30 percent of the value of their property as a result of the wind farm being built in their neighborhoods in 2005-2006.
Weeks, the presiding judge, instructed the jury that aesthetics or site-based objections cannot be the basis of awarding economic or non-economic damages.
Thompson said a defense expert, Robert O’Neal, neglected to make an audio recording of a single minute during 673 hours of measuring noise levels on properties owned by some of the plaintiffs.
He and Cox quarreled over the significance of a sound recording made by a plaintiffs’ consultant of a Horse Hollow wind turbine. Cox downplayed the value of that recording, suggesting that hearing it inside a hard-walled and low-ceilinged courtroom is far different from hearing the real turbine outdoors.
Thompson strongly disagreed.
”What he failed to tell you is, Mr. (Paul) Kiteck precisely calibrated the noise level as we would hear it on that property,” he said.
The Horse Hollow project, whose initial phase was constructed in southwest Taylor County, now straddles the Taylor-Nolan county line.
By Jerry Daniel Reed / email@example.com
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