In a case watched closely by the wind industry, a jury in Texas has found a huge wind farm not responsible for creating a private nuisance – and awarded the plaintiffs nothing.
It was one of the nation’s first nuisance lawsuits against a wind farm.
A jury of 10 women and two men found that Juno Beach, Fla.-based FPL Energy LLC (FPLE) did not create a private nuisance when it constructed the massive Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center, the world’s largest wind farm, near Abeline, Texas. The trial judge Weeks issued directed verdicts in favor of FPLE against two additional plaintiffs.
The case was closely watched by energy industry observers because of the potential impact on future wind farm construction.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that the wind turbines at the farm created enough noise to constitute a private nuisance, but the jurors disagreed.
Attorney Trey Cox, a partner at Lynn Tillotson, and David Markarian, Senior Counsel for FPLE, served as co-lead counsel in the two-week trial before Judge John Wilson Weeks of the 42nd District Court in Abilene.
“This is a complete victory for wind energy, and for FPLE as a leader in the renewable energy field,” said Cox.
“Lots of people talk a good game, but FPL fought a high stakes litigation to protect that investment in our future. If these guys would have succeeded, it would have significantly impacted wind companies’ ability to locate wind farms in the future,” Cox said.
According to FPL, plaintiffs in the area of the wind farm, many of whom live on 100-700 acre parcels, originally filed suit in June of 2005, unhappy the appearance of the turbines. Soon after, the judge ruled that under Texas law, they couldn’t complain about the look of the wind farm. The complaints then shifted to the sound created by the turbines, FPL said.
FPLE senior trial counsel David Markarian said the company brought in a environmental sound engineer from Boston, which did almost 700 hours of measurements.
“We measured at 24 sites, including inside the homes of plaintiffs if they requested us to. The decibel readings were very, very, low. The highest any one measurement ever reached, at any moment, was 44 decibels, and most were substantially lower,” Markarian told Inside Greentech.
According to Markarian, that’s about as loud as wind itself blowing at 10 miles an hour. “There were no wind farms when God created the earth. If someone had a microphone and stuck it up in the Garden of Eden when the wind was blowing, they would have heard about 40 decibels. The average public library is 37 decibels.”
Most people in the area, according to the defense, approved of FPLE’s wind farm and the energy independence it represented.
“This week I was at the best steakhouse in Town, and the woman owner told me everybody in Abilene loves wind, except for the people who live by them,” said Markarian.
FPLE wasn’t able to tell Inside Greentech say how much money it had spent defending its case, but said it had been litigating for 18 months. The environmental sound engineer alone cost upward of $125,000 USD, the company said.
Under Texas law, plaintiffs in the case have the right to appeal the ruling.
FPLE has invested more than $1 billion in its Texas wind farm operations, including the Horse Hollow facility located in Taylor and Nolan counties in Texas.
The Horse Hollow facility consists of 421 turbines spread over 47,000 acres located approximately 20 miles southwest of Abilene. With a maximum generating capacity of 735 megawatts, Horse Hollow is the largest wind farm in the world.
By Dana Childs, Inside Greentech
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