The Australian Energy Infrastructure Commissioner has been admonished by the judge presiding over a Supreme Court case that will determine whether a Victorian wind farm is guilty of causing a nuisance to its neighbours.
The rebuke came in the civil case, presided over by Justice Melinda Richards, over a common law complaint that the noise made by the turbines of the Bald Hills wind farm in Victoria’s south-east have caused substantial and unreasonable interference to neighbours’ enjoyment of their properties.
The trial is being watched closely by both the wind industry and its detractors as Australia’s first group legal action alleging a link between turbine noise – both audible and inaudible – and human health impacts.
One of those watching is Australian Energy Infrastructure Commissioner, Andrew Dyer, whose original role as National Wind Farm Commissioner was established to act as a sort of mediator between wind farm developers and citizens over precisely such issues as these.
Dyer was called out by Justice Richards on Tuesday for contacting her chambers and offering up his office’s online resources, as well as his own insight, on issues in the case – a move she described as “no doubt well-intentioned,” but also “quite inappropriate.”
The lapse in judgment by the Commissioner also prompted the judge to restate the “confined set of issues” that were up for determination in the case, and remind all parties that wind energy – more broadly – was not on trial.
This is considered an important point when anti-wind sentiment still flavours the policy-making of some of Australia’s top federal politicians.
“This is, of course, a trial of adversarial proceeding involving a common law nuisance claim brought by Mr Uren and Mr Zakula against the Bald Hills Wind Farm… It is not a broad-ranging inquiry into wind farms generally,” Justice Richards said.
“As my associate informed [Mr Dyer], I will be making my decision on the basis of evidence that I receive in the course of the trial,” she added.
As part of this process, Justice Richards and her associates made an excursion to site of the wind farm on Wednesday, as well as to the properties of the two plaintiffs – John Zakula, who lives just over 1km from the nearest turbine, and Noel Uren who sold his adjoining property in 2018.
The lawyers for the pair told court this week that the noise from the Bald Hills turbines had caused them sleep deprivation, to the point of driving Uren to sell up and Zakula to brick up his bedroom window.
Zakula has shared his dislike of wind turbines, and detailed the impact he alleges they have had on his wellbeing, broadly with the mainstream and local media over the years since it was switched on in 2015, including in an interview with Channel Nine’s A Current Affair in 2018.
Dyer declined to comment when contacted by RenewEconomy.