Bald Hills Wind Farm Neighbours Win Historic Legal Battle Against Turbines ‘Too Close To Homes’

20th August, 2020

By Jedda Costa, ABC Gippsland / 

Man stands on his property with wind turbines in the background
Land owner says the noise from the turbines near his property has caused sleep deprivation for residents.(Supplied: John Zakula)

The South Gippsland Shire Council and local residents have won a legal fight against the Bald Hills Wind Farm (BHWF) near Tarwin Lower, about 150 kilometres south-east of Melbourne.

Key points:

  • A council in Victoria’s south-east has won a historic legal battle against a wind farm near Tarwin Lower
  • Last year, the operator of the Bald Hills Wind Farm sued the South Gippsland Shire Council after a report found turbine noise was affecting the wellbeing of nearby residents
  • The Supreme Court yesterday ruled there were no legal errors made by the council

The operator of the windfarm sued the council in March last year after it commissioned an independent report, which found noise from the farm’s turbines was having an adverse impact on the comfort and wellbeing of residents.

The company appealed against the council’s findings and sought a judicial review of the report, claiming it was incorrect and unlawful, but the Supreme Court yesterday ruled no legal errors were made throughout the council’s investigation.

The council’s chair administrator Julie Eisenbise welcomed the court’s decision.

“Noise emissions from wind farms are complex matters that local government is rarely called upon to adjudicate,” Ms Eisenbise said.

“I am pleased that council’s processes have withstood the scrutiny of the Supreme Court and I remain hopeful that the other parties can now settle this matter privately.”

People power at the heart of outcome

Bald Hills landholder John Zakula said he hoped the outcome would highlight the experiences of locals who have fought to hold major corporations legally accountable.

“We’re now starting to see some sort of positive action and some of our complaints are coming to fruition,” Mr Zakula said.

Three cows rest on grass in front of wind turbines
The Bald Hills Wind farm has 52 turbines south-east of Tarwin Lower in South Gippsland.(Supplied: Rob French)

“People think that these wind farms are out in the country, out in the middle of nowhere, and it’s not going to affect anyone.

“But this is affecting us — previous wind farms that are already existing and also other wind farms that are in the planning stages here in South Gippsland.”

Principal lawyer at DST Legal Dominica Tannock represented the land owners in the five-year legal saga.

She said she hoped the case would encourage planning authorities to consider appropriate locations for wind farms in the future.

“Yes, we do want renewable energy, we do want wind farms, but they have to built in the right locations with the right buffers and they can’t be built too close to people’s homes,” Ms Tannock said.

“Just because people are out in the country doesn’t mean that they should be sacrificed so people in the city can have their lights on at night time and their air conditioning running during summer.”

Historic win after 5-year legal saga

Since the BHWF began operating its 52 turbines in 2015, residents submitted complaints to various authorities claiming the noise was causing sleep disturbance and headaches, especially on nights with rough weather conditions.

The impact on people’s health from wind turbines, known as wind turbine syndrome, has long been debated.

The Australian Medical Association’s position is there is no credible evidence that wind farms have a negative impact on the health of people who live near them.

Flinders University in Adelaide is completing a five-year project researching the effect of wind farms on people’s sleep.

A cow standing in front of a wind farm near Tarwin Lower.
The Supreme Court ruled South Gippsland Shire Council made no legal error in its report which found the turbine noise a nuisance to residents.(ABC Gippsland: Rob French)

Frustrated neighbours to the BHWF issued a complaint to the council under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act.

An initial investigation by the council found there was no impact from the wind turbines.

But the complainant challenged the decision and the Supreme Court ordered the council to commission an independent report which cost more than $33,000.

Wind farm disappointed

The council recommends the residents and windfarm operator now resolve the matter privately.

In statement, a spokesperson from the BHWF said it was disappointed by the outcome but respected the decision.

“BHWF has participated in good faith in mediation with the landowners who joined the Supreme Court proceedings,” the statement said.

“Despite BHWF’s best and reasonable efforts the matter has not been resolved.”

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