Since 1998, 49 hearings have been held under rules of legal evidence in at least five English-speaking countries and four types of courts regarding wind energy, noise, and health. Forty-eight assessed the evidence and found no potential for harm to human health. The sole outlier is an instructive but unique case.
To find the decisions, I searched legal databases of environmental, utility, civil, and higher courts in Canada, New Zealand, the United States of America (USA), the United Kingdom, and Australia. In the USA, this required state-by-state searches. I also searched anti-wind campaign sites for the Waubra Foundation and the US National Wind Watch for cited cases. I requested information from contacts in the wind industry and wind advocacy organizations as well. While well over 150 potential decisions were found and assessed and 49 found that pertained to noise and health, this does not mean that every single case has been identified. Courts in Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands have also found no connection between wind turbines and health issues per reports, but the records are not in English.
Court cases jumped dramatically after Dr. Nina Pierpont, the pediatrician wife of an anti-wind activist, self-published a book alleging health risks from wind turbines based on phone interviews with a self-selected and very small number of people who blamed them for commonly experienced symptoms.
Canada is the center of wind farm health-related court challenges, with 17 separate hearings for its 7.8 GW of wind energy capacity and a population of 35 million.
This is mostly due to Ontario, with 14 Environmental Review Tribunals (ERT) testing the evidence and the relative experts, as well as two higher court cases. The mechanism of the ERT was specifically referenced in the Renewable Energy Act to provide recourse related to specific wind farms, and it’s being heavily exercised.
The province of Alberta has seen two significant cases in its Alberta Utility Commission court, and the province of Saskatchewan saw a single civil suit related to wind energy and health.
All Canadian courts found that wind farms would not and do not cause health impacts with proper setbacks in place.
Next up is Australia with 10 cases over its 2.7 GW of capacity and a population of 23 million.
The state of Victoria appears to be the Ontario of Australia, with seven civil suits.
The states of South Australia and New South Wales saw three cases in their environment and resource courts.
All Australian cases found that wind farms would not cause health impacts with proper setbacks in place.
The United Kingdom has seen the next highest numbers of cases, with nine hearings over its more than 10 GW of wind energy capacity and a population of 63 million.
The county of Devon saw the most cases, with three bringing evidence related to wind energy, noise, and health. Denbighshire had two cases, and various other counties and Scotland each had one case.
All United Kingdom cases found that wind farms would not cause health impacts with proper setbacks in place.
In one outlier case in the UK, a wind farm complied fully with the noise standards, but the Inspector charged with assessing the wind farm siting felt the combination of wind farms in the area would cause discernible noise on more evenings in households than was acceptable; this was upheld as being within the authority of the Inspector upon appeal.
The United States saw eight court cases in total that pertained to wind energy, noise, and health concerns over its 61 GW of wind energy capacity and population of 314 million people.
States in the northeast represented five of the eight court cases with the other three taking place in the central United States.
Seven cases found no harm from wind energy with the proper setbacks currently in place.
The USA has the only case where a wind farm was considered to have caused harm. This case was brought by a single family near a pair of wind farms erected on the municipal wastewater treatment plant by the town of Falmouth, Massachusetts. The judgment includes the statement that dental harm occurred, along with other types of medical ailments. This single small wind farm is referenced worldwide by anti-wind advocacy groups as if it is representative of wind health court cases instead of a unique outlier.
New Zealand, somewhat surprisingly given its size, managed five environmental and civil hearings over wind energy, noise and health over 0.6 GW of wind energy capacity and population of 4.4 million people.
Only one case in New Zealand went against a wind farm, the Te Rere Hau wind project, and that was only because noise was greater than anticipated, not because the wind noise was above standards or harmful to human health. This case is widely misrepresented and selectively quoted by anti-wind campaigning organizations such as the Waubra Foundation and National Wind Watch.
The raw numbers become startling when compared to both capacity and population of each of the countries. The United States has, by far, the lowest incidence of litigation and legal procedures, while New Zealand has the most. This is over a very small number of cases, so not much can be inferred from this, but it is interesting nonetheless. All numbers in the table are as of July 2014. There is roughly one court case per 10 million people and for every two GW of wind energy to date for English speaking countries.
An important conclusion can be reached in reviewing the various courts’ decisions - many people put forward as expert witnesses bring a great deal of passion against wind energy, but very little expertise. See the section on inexpert ‘experts’ brought against wind energy in court cases for additional details.
A complete list of cases that have been assessed and analyzed for this report can be found by country below: