Independent Senator Nick Xenophon has issued a warning to local councils that they could face “massive” liability claims from disgruntled ratepayers over wind farm developments.
Speaking at Grant District Council on Monday night during a whistle-stop visit to Mount Gambier, Mr Xenophon warned the issue was a “legal minefield” for local government authorities.
Denying his brief stopover in Mount Gambier was a ploy to gain media attention, he claimed he was deeply worried that councils could be hit with millions of dollars in compensation pay-outs.
Speaking to councillors and a number of concerned residents in the gallery, the senator – who planned to return to Mount Gambier next week – said he had received some advice from a barrister on the issue.
He said councils faced possible legal nuisance claims through the courts, particularly regarding infrasound emulating from turbines that impacts on brain activity.
“There is a growing body of evidence that there could be potential liability,” said Mr Xenophon, who was flanked by councillors in the chamber.
Explaining he was a former suburban injuries lawyer and not an expert on these legal matters, he said a case in the United Kingdom over nuisance issues was settled out of court.
He called on Grant Council – which has been at the heart of controversial wind farm developments – to seek its own legal advice about its potential liability flowing from decisions being made by its independent development assessment panel.
While the proposed $170m wind farm at Allendale East has hit a legal wall, council has a number of turbines operating in its district as well as an active planning application for a wind farm near Port MacDonnell.
“Councils need to take a precautionary approach,” Mr Xenophon said.
“My gut feeling is that is going to be a minefield for litigation.”
He said nuisance claims over infrasound was an emerging issue for residents living near turbines, which in Australia were bigger and more imposing than in United Kingdom.
“If they come at the expensive of massive litigation and forcing people out of their homes, then that’s a real issue,” the senator said.
“If people are cranky about their amenity, they then could take it on.”
While backing green energy developments, he warned that it was not sensible to “put too many eggs in the wind farm basket” and other developments such as tidal and gemo-thermal should be explored.
Speaking to The Border Watch yesterday, Grant District Mayor Richard Sage praised Mr Xenophon for taking an interest in regional issues in the South East, including wind farms.
Regarding fears over liability, Mr Sage said the State and Federal Government must determine a nationwide framework for wind farms.
“They need to look at all of the issues,” the mayor said.
He argued council could alter its development plan to provide tighter guidelines for wind farms, but warned the State Government could override them.
Conceding council had been subjected to criticism over wind farm developments, he said council’s hands had “been tied behind its back” and had faced difficult decisions.
Meanwhile, at Monday ‘s council meeting, Cr Graham Slarks said wind farms have been an arduous issue for council given the decisions were made by its independent panel.
He said councillors on the assessment panel were confronted with trying to work out how they could stop wind farm developments because of the objections.
At the meeting, Cr Alan Hill also expressed his ongoing frustration about the fact councillors could not stop wind farm approvals and had to publicly defend decisions made by its independent panel.
“I don’t want to sound like it is a cop-out – this council has never voted on wind farms and had to defend it by law,” Cr Hill said.
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