I beg to move that leave be given to bring a Bill to require the Secretary of State to make provision about obligations on wind farm operators in respect of financial cover for potential liabilities arising from cause of public nuisance; and for connected purposes.
Wind farms are contentious. Some argue passionately that they are a great public good and the solution to global warming, and others equally passionately hold beliefs that they are a waste of money.
This Bill takes no side in that debate. It is narrowly defined about one aspect of public interest. It requires the operators of wind farms, who are in receipt of £797 million of public subsidy a year, to organise their affairs so that they are able to meet the costs of any nuisance imposed on people living near them.
In 1995 the World Health Organisation recommended that to prevent sleep interruption, low frequency noise should not exceed 30 decibels.
However, in 1996 the Government’s Energy Technology Support Unit (ETSU) set the noise limit for wind turbines at 43 decibels. This is an enormous difference, on the logarithmic decibel scale it is more than double the WHO limit.
We still use those standards today.
So in the last 5 years no application was refused on noise related grounds. But there have been 600 noise related complaints.
The majority of complaints arise as a result of amplitude modulation, which is the loud, continuous thumping or swishing noise regularly described by those living near wind farms.
Numerous studies have identified that sleep is disturbed on a regular basis even at distances over one kilometre away from turbines. Yet under the ETSU standards turbines can be installed just 600m away from residential property.
This is something companies are acutely aware of, all the more since a member of the public, Jane Davis sued a wind farm near her home for noise nuisance. The matter was settled out of court. There is a gagging order preventing us from knowing the details, but the settlement is rumoured to have been in the region of £2 million.
Since this case dubious measures have been taken by the industry to obstruct perfectly legitimate claims for nuisance.
The use of shell companies in the wind industry seems to be the commonest trick. The parent company provides a loan to a specially created subsidiary to set up the wind farm, then leaves it in control of operations. The subsidiary’s balance sheet typically comprises the wind farm physical assets, more than offset by a very large loan from the parent company, with a resulting net liability.
Profits from energy generation and large amounts of public subsidy are siphoned off to the parent company. The subsidiary is left as a financial shell, with very few liquid assets, and total liabilities greater than total assets. This makes it impossible to bring litigation against a wind farm, simply because there is nothing to win from them. Given such companies have negative net assets, even if you liquidated them it would generate no cash to pay either damages or a legal bill.
One of my constituents bought his house in my constituency to enjoy a quiet retirement with his wife.
After living there for more than a decade a ten turbine wind farm was built near the house. The closest windmill is just over 600 metres from his home.
He was assured at the planning stage that the wind farm would not trouble him. And yet he has suffered the misery of regular noise and turbine blade flicker which has rendered his home unliveable.
The low frequency noise from the turbines easily penetrates the double glazing. They had to change bedrooms.
The persistent noise from the wind farm has now taken its toll on his wife’s health. She now suffers heart palpitations and is prescribed anti-depressants by her doctor.
My constituent, fearing his retirement has been ruined and his home thoroughly devalued, attempted to use his legal insurance to claim for nuisance from the wind farm operators.
While there was a good chance of success in court, the company’s finances were organised so that there was no realistic prospect of recovering either damages or the legal costs of bringing the case. That being the case, his insurers would not cover his legal costs.
This is despite the fact that the eventual owner of the wind farm is AES, a multi-billion dollar international company, largely in coal and gas, that paid its chief executive $8.4 million last year. It laughably claims in its annual report to be a “World’s Most Ethical Company”.
It is not alone in its hypocrisy. In March I raised this disreputable practice with Falck Renewables, prospective operators of a wind farm near my own village in my constituency. I asked them whether they were going to do the same. They did not reply.
So my constituents have no way to recover the tranquillity of the lives that they thought they had when they first moved to rural Yorkshire. They can neither sell their house, nor can they get any financial recompense to allow them to be able to afford to move. So they are trapped in this misery.
My point is a simple one. It is necessary that wind farm companies are adequately capitalised so that there can be reasonable prospect of financial success for prospective litigants whose way of life they have damaged.
It is not only the noise which is a nuisance, of course. When the sun is low in the sky behind a turbine it creates a ‘strobe effect’ which can be harmful to health.
There are also concerns that some wind farms could be abandoned at the end of their operational lifespan – creating another sort of visual blight, this time in perpetuity.
The simple solution that I propose in this Bill is to require wind farm operating companies to hold enough cash in hand to manage a legal case at any time, and in addition a financial bond – a guarantee, or insurance policy – as a security against potential liabilities, including all public nuisance and final decommissioning costs.
Any wind farm that fails to do so should lose its right to subsidy, which as I said amounted to £797 million in one year for the industry.
This would ensure that citizens could reasonably sue when they suffer damage….
But just as important it would be a strong incentive for the companies themselves to operate the windfarms in such a way as to avoid public nuisance.
And when the turbines are decommissioned there is money or insurance to cover the cost of clearing the windfarm, avoiding a situation where the local council has to pick up the bill.
Whatever your stance on onshore wind, companies in receipt of public subsidy should be required to meet their public responsibilities. This measure seeks to ensure the big wind farm companies can truly be held liable when they are at fault and give families the protection they deserve.
I beg to move.