The future of dozens of wind farms is at stake in a case opening at the High Court today in which a couple say that the noise from turbines forced them to abandon their home.
Julian and Jane Davis say that the noise from the 320ft turbines just over half a mile from their farmhouse was so disturbing that they were unable to sleep at night, even with their double-glazed windows closed and when wearing earplugs. In documents submitted to the High Court, they liken the swishing and low-frequency humming of the blades to the sound of a helicopter.
They moved out of the house in Deeping St Nicholas, Lincolnshire, in December 2006, six months after the eight-turbine wind farm began operating.
The case is being watched closely by hundreds of other families who say that wind farms cause disturbance.
If the couple win, operators of up to 50 wind farms across the country may have to compensate residents or stop their turbines. The case could affect plans to build thousands more to meet Britain’s renewable energy target.
The case will focus on “amplitude modulation,” sometimes referred to as the swishing or thumping noise made by the blades. The industry admits that it is not properly understood. RenewableUK, the industry’s trade body, has commissioned a study of the problem.
Jane Davis, 55, a former nurse, said: “I can sleep next to major roads and railway stations but the particular noise character from the turbines stops you going to sleep or wakes you up. It makes a ‘whoom whoom whoom’ which becomes unbearable.” She was not objecting to the visual impact.
“We would like the industry and Government to recognise that some wind farms have unexpected adverse effects. They should also realise that when people complain that they can’t sleep, they are not being nimbys, but have a problem.
“I am not against wind farms. I just want to be able to sleep in my own home.” She said the problem could be caused not just by being too close to the wind farms but also the local geography and spacing between turbines.
The couple say that the problem could be resolved by removing two of the turbines and limiting the hours of operation of a third. Alternatively, they want the owners, which include the energy company EDF and a co-operative, to pay them about £400,000 for their extra housing costs to date and to buy an equivalent home elsewhere.
The couple face ruin if they lose. While their household and business insurer is covering their legal costs, they could be held liable for some of the defendants’ costs, which the couple estimate to be more than £2 million.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs acknowledged in a report in April that there could be a particular problem with the type of noise from wind farms. It said: “There is research into the impact of noise from wind farms which suggests that elements of the nature and character of some of the sounds emitted may aggravate the impact.”;
RenewableUK said: “Amplitude modulation is not a well-explored area. We are looking to see whether, in certain rare circumstances, there may be a problem and if that’s shown to be the case clearly we would have to deal with that.”