Bald Hills Wind Farm ordered to stop emitting night-time noise, pay neighbours damages in landmark ruling
A Victorian court has ordered a wind farm in the state’s south east to stop emitting noise at night in a momentous court decision.
The Victorian Supreme Court today found the noise from the Bald Hills Wind Farm at Tarwin Lower created a nuisance to its neighbours ordering damages and an injunction.
John Zakula and Noel Uren took civil action against the wind farm last year, telling the court that “roaring” intermittent noise from the wind turbines caused health problems and loss of sleep.
In a precedent-setting decision, Justice Melinda Richards said the company had not complied with its noise permit conditions and ordered a permanent injunction over the wind farm, with an initial three-month period to fix the issue.
The injunction will require the Bald Hills operators to “take necessary measures to abate” emitting loud noise at night.
And if they don’t, the wind farm will not be able to operate at night.
“Bald Hills has not established that the sound received at either Mr Uren’s house or Mr Zakula’s house complied with the noise conditions in the permit at any time,” Justice Richards said.
“Noise from the turbines on the wind farm has caused a substantial interference with both plaintiffs’ enjoyment of their land.
“Specifically, their ability to sleep undisturbed at night in their own beds in their own homes.”
Damages for ‘distress’ and ‘annoyance’
The court ordered the operators of Bald Hills Wind Farm to pay the men a total of $260,000.
The court said Mr Zakula, who lives about a kilometre from one of the company’s wind turbines, is entitled to damages of $84,000 for “distress, inconvenience and annoyance”.
Mr Uren sold his property next to the wind farm in 2018, but the court said he should be paid $46,000 in damages.
Justice Richards also ordered the wind farm operator to pay aggravated damages of an additional $84,000 for Mr Zakula and $46,000 to Mr Uren.
“Bald Hills’ conduct towards both Mr Uren and Mr Zakula was high-handed and warrants an award of aggravated damages,” Justice Richards said.
The men’s lawyer Dominica Tannock believes it’s the first time in Australia, a wind farm has been ordered by a court to reduce its noise levels.
“The implications are corporate Australia will have to be very careful about complaints,” Ms Tannock said.
“If a wind farm operator receives a complaint it must act on it.
“It must act reasonably, it must act fairly, it must protect people’s sleep and if they don’t there is a precedent [now that] they can be shut down.”
A ‘momentous victory’
Her clients, and a group of other nearby residents, have battled for more than six years to get the wind farm to take their complaints seriously.
“It’s a momentous victory for my clients. They are vindicated, it has been a long battle,” she said.
“It’s not just a victory for Mr Uren and Mr Zakula but it’s for all those other people in small rural communities who are complaining and thought they could do nothing.”
Infrastructure Capital Group, which owns Bald Hills Wind Farm, said in a statement it was “currently absorbing the judgement and its implications” and would not comment on the ruling’s detail.
In her judgement, Justice Richards also made a pointed comment about the renewable energy push and the rights of neighbouring landholders.
“The generation of renewable energy by the wind farm is a socially valuable activity, and it is in the public interest for it to continue.”
She said it should not be a “binary choice between the generation of clean energy by the wind farm and a good night’s sleep for its neighbours”.
“It should be possible to achieve both.”
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