Since 1998 there have been 49 hearings held under rules of legal evidence in at least five English-speaking countries and four types of courts regarding wind energy, noise and health. Forty-six assessed the evidence and found no potential for harm to human health, and the sole outlier is an instructive but unique case.
The Energy and Policy Institute searched legal databases of environmental, utility, civil and higher courts in each of Canada, New Zealand, the USA, the United Kingdom and Australia; in the USA this required state-by-state searches. They also searched anti-wind campaign sites for the Waubra Foundation and the US National Wind Watch for cases they cited.
Canada is the centre of wind farm health-related court challenges with seventeen separate hearings for its 7.8 GW of wind energy capacity and populace of 35 million. This is mostly due to Ontario, with eleven separate Environmental Review Tribunals (ERT) testing the evidence and the relative experts, as well as two higher court cases. The mechanism of the ERT was specifically referenced in the Renewable Energy Act to provide recourse related to specific wind farms, and it’s being heavily exercised. The province of Alberta has seen two significant cases in its Alberta Utility Commission court, and the province of Saskatchewan saw a single civil suit related to wind energy and health. All Canadian courts found in that wind farms wouldn’t and don’t cause health impacts with the setbacks in place.
Next up is Australia with ten cases over its 2.7 GW of capacity and 23 million populace. The state of Victoria appears to be the Ontario of Australia, with seven civil suits. The states of South Australia and New South Wales saw three cases in their environment and resource courts. All Australian cases found that wind farms wouldn’t cause health impacts with the setbacks in place.
The United Kingdom has seen the next highest numbers of cases with nine hearings over its more than 10 GW of wind energy capacity and 63 million populace. The county of Devon saw the most cases with three bringing evidence related to wind energy, noise and health. Denbighshire had two cases, and various other counties and Scotland each had one case. All United Kingdom cases found that wind farms wouldn’t cause health impacts with the setbacks in place. In one outlier case, a wind farm complied fully with the noise standards but the Inspector charged with assessing the wind farm siting felt the combination of wind farms in the area would cause discernible noise on more evenings in households than was acceptable; this was upheld as being within the authority of the Inspector upon appeal.
The United States has only eight court cases in all Appeal and higher courts in all states that pertain to wind energy, noise and health concerns over its 61 GW of wind energy capacity and 314 million people. States in the northeast are overly represented in cases with five of the eight with the other three in the central states. Seven cases were aligned with the rest of cases in other parts of the world finding no harm from wind energy at the setbacks in place. The USA does have the only case where a wind farm was considered to have caused harm. This case was brought by a single family near a pair of wind farms erected on the municipal wastewater treatment plant by the town of Falmouth, Massachusetts. The judgment includes the fascinating statement that dental harm occurred, along with other types of medical ailments. This single small wind farm is referenced world wide by anti-wind advocacy groups as if it is representative instead of unique, and distinctly odd.
New Zealand had five environmental and civil hearings over wind energy, noise and health over 0.6 GW of wind energy capacity and 4.4 million people. It too has an Environment Court structure designed to allow tests of proposed land use, which is where four of cases were heard, in addition to one higher court case. Only one case in New Zealand went against a wind farm, the Te Rere Hau wind project, and that was only because noise was greater than anticipated, not because the wind noise was above standards or in any way harmful to health. One obvious conclusion that can be reached in reviewing the various courts’ decisions is that many people who are put forward as expert witnesses often bring a great deal of passion, but very little actual expertise. The Energy and Policy Institute identified 16 people who attempted to gain expert status in courts who were rejected entirely or the entirety of their testimony dismissed.