The House of Lords is currently considering the Wind Turbines (Minimum Distances from Residential Premises) Bill, which relates to England & Wales. The Bill was debated by the Lords on 10 June 2011, during which a wide-ranging discussion took place on issues including the effect of wind turbines on rural areas and meeting the UK's renewable energy targets. The Bill is set to go to committee for closer examination of its provisions, but a date for this has not yet been scheduled.
The Bill proposes to increase the distance required between residential areas and the site of a wind turbine. At present, in England, there is no set legal distance, although planning policy noise limits suggest a separation of around 350 metres. A quieter wind farm may well be allowed closer to residences under the current rules.
In Scotland and Wales, the guidelines encourage greater separation distances. Scotland suggests a guideline distance of 2km, largely due to the visual effect of the turbines, and Wales 500m. The current Bill recommends following the Scottish example in both England and Wales, and implementing a requirement for a larger gap between residential accomodation and turbines. The proposed distances range from 1000 metres to 3000 metres, depending on the size of the wind turbine.
Separation distances are controversial. Some argue that close proximity is essential, for example, where a small-scale array or single turbine serves a house or village not on or near a national grid connection. However, many of those living in close proximity to wind farms are often convinced that they have a detrimental effect on both house values and health. At present, compensation is not commonly awarded to those who reside near wind farms, despite these complaints.
Julian and Jane Davis are one example of a family who believe the location of a wind farm, 1,000 metres from their home, has damaged both their health and house value. They are farmers in Lincolnshire and claim they were forced to leave their home after the constant low frequency noise from the wind farm disturbed their sleep and caused them to become ill. Their counsel, Peter Harrison QC, claims that the effect was so severe that the farmhouse is unsellable as a family home.
The couple are currently litigating a compensation claim against the wind farm owners, builders and landowners, and seeking £380,000 compensation. Additionally, they are seeking an injunction to restrict the operation of the wind farm. That claim is currently being heard in the High Court.
Wind power is high on the agenda in both Scotland and England. Alex Salmond has recently announced that Scotland aims to source 100% of its energy from green energy sources by 2020, whilst in England plans are in place to construct one of the first gigawatt wind turbines. This reflects a certain inevitability that wind farms will continue to grow and develop in both Scotland and England. However, where they will be sited and how much it will cost developers may be seen more clearly when a decision is reached in the Davis case. The wind farm industry will be following this case closely.