From the Acoustic Ecology Institute based in New Mexico, USA
In what may be an unprecedented move, 23 Texans who host wind turbines on their property have filed suit against two different wind farm developers, claiming that companies “carelessly and negligently failed to adequately disclose the true nature and effects that the wind turbines would have on the community, including the plaintiffs’ homes.”
The plaintiffs host hundreds of turbines on projects developed by Duke Energy and E.ON, and as a Duke spokesman noted, they did consent to the placement of the turbines. However, the lawsuit stresses that the companies told residents the turbines “would not be noisy, would not adversely impact neighboring houses and there would not be any potential health risk.”
This court challenge stands apart from most previous nuisance suits, nearly all of which been filed by non-participating neighbors of wind farms (ie, local residents who are not hosting turbines themselves). Most annoyance surveys suggest that wind farm hosts are less likely to be bothered by turbine noise than non-participating neighbors, and many wind projects make an effort to spread the financial benefits to include some non-host neighbors, because of suggestions that broader project participation will increase community acceptance. In this case, however, the plaintiffs are receiving lease payments and tax benefits that will exceed $50 million over the life of the projects.
Among the plaintiffs are Willacy County Commissioner Noe Loya, who is said to “no longer enjoy sitting outside because of the loud noise,” with turbine noise inside and outside his home “disturbing the peace and making it difficult to enjoy living there.” Another plaintiff, a local Justice of the Peace, “has difficulty sleeping, cannot have his windows open (and) cannot enjoy the sound of nature, due to loud noise from wind turbines.” The lawsuit also claims that some residents have abandoned their homes. In addition to noise issues, the suit includes visual impact, property value, and health effects claims.
E.ON spokesman Elon Hasson, says the company is reviewing the suit. “We develop all of our wind farms in a safe, state-of-the-art and responsible manner. . . We believe these claims will be shown to have no validity.”
UPDATE, 1/31/14: Spokesmen from both companies issued statements noting that one claim of the suit—that the companies had no plans to remove the turbines at the end of their useful life—is false, and stressed their ongoing monitoring and maintenance of the machines. They more generally dismissed the other accusations, as well.
The suit was filed in State District Court in November. In December, the companies requested that it be moved to federal court, where U.S. District Judge Hilda Tagle has called for a response from the companies by February 6.
Ed. note: Some wind development leases I’ve seen explicitly preclude hosts from filing nuisance suits. There is limited information online about this case, and it’s unclear whether the plaintiffs’ contracts include such restrictions; if they do, then the legal case may be open-and-shut, or it may be that the crux of the legal challenge is the veracity and completeness of information provided to hosts prior to signing contracts. (It may be worth noting that lease agreements don’t usually include “gag clauses” against speaking publicly about noise or other post-construction experiences; confidentiality clauses usually cover only financial terms and development plans)
2 Responses to “23 Texas wind farm hosts sue over noise, nuisance”
- Joe McKenzie Says:
January 31st, 2014 at 8:35 amI can attest to the noise disturbance inside and outside of my home, as I live just mere feet of the setback radius ordinance, for non-participating occupants at the Twin Ridges Wind Farm operated by Everpower, located in Southern Somerset County, PA. Please stress to our local Somerset County Commissioners that these are definitely a nuisance for communities who house the turbines. In our quest for resolve, a year ago at start up, we were told by Everpower officials that they had a manufactures guarantee that the turbines sound no louder than a refrigerator and that is totally false. I don’t know what part of the turbine that guarantee refers to but not the overall noise that is created by these things. Our township also developed an agreement with the recommendations from Everpower for a 50 decibel limit on noise. It was not explained in layman’s terms to the officials accepting the agreement that the 50 decibels was not overall noise heard, it was just the noise that the turbines created. A noise study was performed at our home May-June 2013 and was determined to be below 50 decibels after all background noise was filtered out fro the turbine noise. I might add that I know by way of what is heard from these things that a 50 decibels noise limit is not low enough or acceptable in our situation. When I purchased my land of approx. 200 acres it was for my love of being in the outdoors and the serenity of the surroundings. At that time Everpower was already working on permitting in for this area which was unbeknown to me. I built my home with my own hands taking approx. 5 yrs to complete. Then the turbines were erected and the value of something that took my entire life to work for has now been de-valued. No one in there right mind would want to purchase this property if I decide to flee. They could not stand to have the sounds. I cannot go outside and enjoy the outdoors at all. Everpower proposed to me sound board for my home, added insulation, new windows and blinds to cover the flickering effects when the sun hits the turbines at different times of the year. They did not know how to comment when asked “what do I do in the summer when I want to have my windows open”. I too feel as though the landowners in our immediate area were not fully disclosed with the effects that the outlying community would have to suffer. It is a shame that our tax dollars that subsidize these projects are creating such disarray within communities. The last communication with Everpower was the results of the noise study performed at our home in May-June of 2013. The letter states: The test results demonstrate that the sound level attributable to the Project remains below the 50dBa range. While such levels are relatively low-in fact, quite similar to the background levels measured throughout the survey at remote locations miles away from any turbines-compliance with the permit condition does not automatically imply that the Project in inaudiable. In this case, the house, which is constructed of logs, has exterior walls that are heavier and more massive than normal and has few and relatively small windows on the side of the house facing the project. What this generally means is that the house is already unusually well-suited to resist intrusion from outside sounds. The situation is that there is no practical way of adding additional mass to the walls or roof or sealing every crack, nor would there be any significant benefit from improving the acoustical performance of the windows with storm windows because the glazed area is small enough relative to the overall façade area that the change would not, in all likelihood, be noticeable. A practical solution may be to use a white noise generator inside the McKenzie house, such as a Marpac Dohm-DS “sound conditioner”, which, because any noise from the Project must be quite low in magnitude, may be able to provide some effective masking. Also, I am not sure if Texas receives much icing conditions, but if you think that these things are loud on normal days you should hear them when they ice up.
- aeinews Says:
January 31st, 2014 at 11:34 amThanks for your note, Joe. Yes, 50dB is on the high end of regulatory limits for turbines, and it’s not surprising that this feels too loud to you and some or many others, especially at night, when activity abates and local ambient likely drops toward 35dB or lower.