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.)