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UK wind farm challenge ended by financial settlement, the latest of many

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Jane and Julian Davis’ long-running dispute with a wind farm located 1km (just over a half mile) from their  home in Deeping St. Nicholas has come to an end.  On the day before their case, seeking either a permanent shut-down of the wind farm or 2.5 million pounds in damages, was due to hear the final witnesses at London’s High Court, a settlement was announced between the Davis’ and the wind farm developer. The details of the settlement are confidential, and likely less than the Davis’ were seeking, but we can likely presume that it is enough for them to buy another piece of rural property; they moved out of their home less than a year after the wind farm began operation in 2006. Update, 12/6/11: a local newspaper talks to the couple.

The settlement comes as somewhat of a surprise, considering the vehemence with which their claims of being forced from their home were challenged in the first round of testimony at the High Court this summer. However, a spokesman for Renewable UK, the wind energy trade association, welcomed the news of a settlement, saying that the organization always encourages its members to work closely with local residents when planning projects to ensure that any local issues are resolved without ending up in court.

To which I might say, they were a bit behind the curve this time! Yet certainly the industry would prefer to not risk negative court judgments in a high profile case such as this, which was the first such challenge to a wind farm on basis of a “nuisance” rather than as violating specific wind farm operational guidelines. This settlement is but the latest of quite a few situations in which wind developers felt it made more sense to buy property or otherwise settle disputes financially than fight nearby neighbors who had moved out of their homes or were prominent local voices about the noise impacts of siting choices. (That spree of links reflects buyouts in Ontario, Washington, Oregon, and Australia.) While the prospect of purchasing property is often said to introduce untenable uncertainty into project financing, the actual cost of purchasing a few nearby properties is dwarfed by the cost of the turbines themselves (over a million dollars each). Most of these settlements have been concessions by developers after problems arose, though in at least one Australian case, the buyouts were presented as a “sell your house or live with it” option prior to construction, which neighbors felt was an untenable and unfair choice.

There is clearly movement here, in that developers are recognizing that impacts are more dramatic on some neighbors than on others, and than had been expected.  Yet we also clearly have a way to go before we can say that dialogue on these variable impacts has become routine or an influence on setback distances proposed by developers.  So far, we’ve yet to see any developers take the proactive approach of agreeing to keep turbines well away from unwilling neighbors, and to work with willing neighbors or willing sellers to come up with a viable site plan. That time is not far away, though, I suspect; the industry will surely benefit from reducing the contention that results when site plans lead to significant audible noise impacts on unwilling neighbors.

2 Responses to “UK wind farm challenge ended by financial settlement, the latest of many”

  1. FredJones Says:

    I attended court for a day during the first two week session. Was horrified at the way Davis family were treated in court. They were forced to endure many days of questioning that at times amounted to interrogation. Some of the questions were of a personal nature and very few were about noise. During the day I was there much of the questions were about their finances and who paid for the cost of redecorating.

    If I didn’t know better I would have thought defendants were trying to “break” them, use up court time and the Davis funds before the noise evidence could be heard. In the end the court did break and the case was settled BEFORE the noise evidence was heard. Draw your own conclusions. I’m dissapointed the judge didn’t require the noise evidence to be heard first. After all that was what the case was all about.

  2. John Ellis Says:

    Congratulations to Julian Davis on his determination and resolve to fight for justice. Disappointing the case has been settled out of court. If the noise evidence had been presented and the case settled in your favour, the
    compensation would have been much higher. The precedence set by your case would have been a benefit to other objectors to wind farms around the country.
    Wind Turbine Objectors need to form an Association to combat the bullying Foriegn Developers.