On 4 November 2014, the South Australian Environment, Resources and Development Court (Court) approved Tru Energy’s Burra Wind Farm in South Australia, subject to conditions. This judgment contains some useful findings in respect of health and visual amenity impacts for the wind farm industry.
During the appeal, Goyder Council actually consented to the proposed wind farm following a significant reduction in the amount of turbines (from 41 to 35) and a redesign of the turbine layout. However, two objectors maintained their opposition to the proposed wind farm despite the design concessions by Tru Energy.
In approving the wind farm, the Court was critical of the objectors’ expert evidence and found that it did not establish a causal link between operating wind turbines and the health problems being complained of by nearby residents. In short, the objectors relied on affidavits from 11 residents who believed that they suffered adverse health impacts (including nausea, insomnia, headaches, balance issues and heart palpitations) and sleep disturbance from the existing Waterloo Wind Farm. In reaching this conclusion, the Court accepted Tru Energy’s expert evidence to the effect that:
- there was no evidence that audible noise resulting from the operation of wind turbines constitutes a significant risk to the majority of individuals if Tru Energy complied with the current noise guidelines of the Environment Protection Authority;
- the extent to which adverse health effects occur will depend on whether the person is a noise sensitive individual, as well as other internal and external factors (attitude, visual amenity, nocebo effects and financial interests); and
- there was no evidence that the level of infrasound produced by wind farms constitutes a health problem.
In relation to visual impacts, the Court accepted that the visual prominence of wind farms was “inevitable”, but held that wind farms were a desired form of development and their effect on the rural outlooks from properties in the zone did not weigh against them in an assessment of the application.