A Supreme Court bid to block the development of a 300MW wind farm in South Australia – due to its potential impact on the health of nearby residents – has been defeated, after a three-judge panel ruled to uphold a previous decision to allow the project to go ahead.
The judgment, handed down by the South Australia Supreme Court on November 15, marks an important victory for Tilt Renewables’ long-stalled South Australia Palmer wind farm – and for wind energy in general, which is still subject to claims that “infrasound” produced by spinning turbines can make people (and other animals) sick.
But the ruling from Supreme Court Justices Kourakis, Kelly and Hinton, by upholding the March 2018 ruling of the Environment, Resources and Development Court (ERD), effectively finds these claims remain unsubstantiated.
Tilt’s 300MW Palmer wind farm, proposed for South Australia’s Mid Murray Council area, has travelled a rocky road since its conception in 2013, due largely to the objections of a number of local landholders, including high profile local AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan.
Their case, at first presented to the Environment, Resources and Development Court (ERD), was based around claims that residents living near to wind farms operating in other parts of Australia – Waterloo and Hallett in South Australia, and Cape Bridgewater in Victoria – had experienced health problems caused by wind turbines.
According to the Supreme Court documents, these alleged health problems included difficulty sleeping, nausea, cardiac arrhythmia, depression and irritability, vivid and distressing nightmares, ringing in the ears and ear pressure, and headaches.
When the ERD Court was not convinced by the claims and ruled in March 2018 to uphold the council’s approval, subject to additional conditions, just one of the original objectors, Stirling McDonald, appealed the decision in the Supreme Court.
But the Supreme Court ruled that McGregor – who lives in Melbourne but owns a house about 7km from the closest turbine proposed for Palmer wind farm – and his legal team had failed to prove that the ERD Court had erred in its judgement.
“The ERD Court found that, notwithstanding the affidavit evidence from residents of other wind farms concerning the adverse health effects they had experienced… there was no evidence that similar symptoms would be caused by the particular wind farm proposed by Tilt,” the Supreme Court said.
“There was no evidence that the other wind farms, their geographic and climatic location, and the relative location of the deponents’ homes to them, were closely comparable for the purposes of the pathogenesis of the conditions they described.
“Indeed, the objectors did not adduce any expert medical opinion that the particular symptoms and experiences described by the deponents were caused by the wind farms in their locality.”
And finally, it noted, that the ERD Court “accepted the expert opinion evidence adduced by Tilt that it was likely that the symptoms complained of by the deponents were psychogenic.”
Tilt – which in 2016 chose Melbourne as the regional headquarters for its renewables only business, an offshoot of NZ utility, Trustpower – said in a statement that it was happy with the Supreme Court’s judgment, but was still undecided about the fate of the Palmer wind project.
“Tilt is very pleased to have finally obtained Development Approval for the Palmer Wind Farm project and the certainty that this brings with respect to the approval status,” the statement said.
“Tilt Renewables will continue to assess the project against other options in its portfolio and further progress development activities at an appropriate time to meet market opportunities.
“Tilt Renewables thanks the project landowners and other key stakeholders for their patience and support in getting to this point.”
Tilt, meanwhile, is one of several companies facing court proceedings brought by the Australian Energy Regulator over the role of its wind farm in the 2016 South Australian blackout that left 850,000 homes and businesses without power.