Property in France
A Belgian couple living in the department of Tarn have won €128,000 in damages due to a wind farm near their property.
As we have previously reported on these pages, wind farms are a hotly contested topic in France.
In legal cases each year, the courts often rule in favour of opponents, normally on grounds of protection of the environment or historically important buildings.
Less common are victories by complainants on grounds of nuisance from the wind farm, but in a landmark decision in the court of appeal sitting in Toulouse, a Belgian couple have won €128,000 damages on that basis.
The story began in 2004, when the couple purchased an old farmstead in the village of Fontrieu, located in the natural park of Haut-Languedoc.
The couple restored the property, in the process converting 3 farm buildings into gites.
In 2008/9, a wind farm comprising 6 turbines each 58 metres high was installed on land belonging to the local council, with the nearest turbine 700 metres and the furthest at 1300 metres from their property. The minimal legal distance of a turbine from a residential property is 500 metres.
At the time, the couple made no objections against the new development, and until 2013, the couple obtained relief from the sight and noise of the turbines by a wood located between them and the wind farm.
However, following loss of the woodland through felling that year, the couple began to suffer from a range of health problems, which they considered emanated from the noise created by the turbines. The main symptoms were headaches, dizziness, fatigue, tachycardia, and tinnitus.
The couple stated that the lighting of the wind farm was particularly intense: “The wind turbines emit a flash every two seconds. We were forced to illuminate outside to mitigate the effect of the flashes. In addition, they produce a continuous noise equivalent to that of a washing machine. “
The white flashes of light made them “feel like they were in a permanent thunderstorm. It was a really terrifying visual and auditory assault which was even more unbearable at night,” they stated.
The impact of the disturbance from the turbines on their health became so serious that in 2015, on the advice of their doctor, they vacated their farmstead and relocated to a rental property 17 kms away. Within months of doing so their symptoms had disappeared completely.
The couple made complaints to the wind farm operator without success, and those to the local and departmental councils similarly fell on deaf ears.
As a result, in 2015 they brought a legal action against the wind farm operator, but the local tribunal in Castres rejected their complaint, ruling that the noise and visual intrusion from the wind farm was not so abnormal as to constitute a neighbour nuisance (trouble anormal de voisinage).
The couple appealed the ruling to the court of appeal in Toulouse, who in July found in their favour.
During the proceedings the court heard from a range of experts, with those from the wind farm company stating that it could not be established that there was a causal link between infrasound from the turbines and disorders often invoked by the applicants. They considered that the couple may have been under stress caused by the sight of the wind turbines after the woodland was cut down.
Expert witnesses to the court who had reviewed the scientific literature on the health effects of low sound frequencies and infrasound due to wind turbines concluded that there was an illness known as ‘wind farm syndrome’. The symptoms are very diverse, including general (fatigue, nausea), neurological (headache, tinnitus) or psychological (stress, anxiety), among others. They considered the couple were indeed victims of this syndrome.
The court awarded the couple €128,000, made of up damages caused to their health and to the loss of value to their property. As the period to make an appeal has now passed, the ruling is a final one.
In their report, the court expert interestingly pointed out that although the law relating to the installation of wind farms requires the installation not to be the source of airborne or ground noise, giving maximum noise levels, it does not take into account either very low frequencies or infrasound.
Emmanuel Forichon on behalf of the regional campaign group Toutes Nos Énergies, who supported the couple in their action, stated: “These wind turbines allegedly complied with regulatory noise standards: proof if there were any that these standards need to be reviewed.”
The avocat for the couple Alice Terrace stated: “To my knowledge, this case has no precedent”. However, she cautioned that it could not be universally applied. “But be careful,” she stated, “This wind farm causes an abnormal nuisance in its configuration, but each case is particular and must be examined on its merits.”