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French court finds wind farm as source of health issues for residents

In the first ruling of its kind in France, a court in Toulouse found that six wind turbines near a couple’s farmhouse had caused them physical, emotional and financial distress

A view of a sunset from a wind turbine in a rural location

The couple has six wind turbines within 700 and 1,300 metres of their property, which is located in a rural area Pic: Stockr / Shutterstock

A court in southwest France has awarded a couple €128,000 after acknowledging that wind turbines near their house were the cause of physical, mental, and financial problems for them.

After six years of judicial proceedings, the court in Toulouse found in favour of the couple, who are originally from Belgium. 

The couple, known as Christel and Luc F., lives in Tarn, Occitanie. There are six wind turbines near their farmhouse property, all within 700-1,300 metres.

The court ordered two wind farm companies using the turbines – Margnes Energie and Sasu Singladou Energie – to pay the couple €128,000 in damages in recognition of the pair’s suffering and the devaluation of their property.

Lawyer for the couple Ms Alice Terrace, told Le Figaro: “This isn’t a case that you see every day. I think that this court decision is unheard of in France.”

Rural location became ‘a nightmare’

In 2004, the couple, who are in their 40s, bought and renovated an old farmhouse dating back to 1813, located in the natural regional park of the Haut Languedoc.

The property includes a main house, and three extra buildings, which the couple converted into gîtes, with plans to welcome holiday tourists to the rural location.

Ms F explained: “We bought this house because it is located in a fantastic natural zone of ecological interest for fauna and flora, and the natural heritage is protected and exceptional.”

But between 2008 and 2009, six wind turbines were constructed. French law states that the minimum legal distance between a turbine and a home must be at least 500 metres.

And while the wind turbines on the property comply with this distance law, the couple soon began experiencing problems regardless.

Mr F said: “At the start, we were not against the building of turbines near our property, but over time, our daily lives became a nightmare.”

In 2013, the wood that had previously separated the couple’s property from the wind turbine fields was razed, causing greater issues. The wind farm’s lights were a particular problem, with bright white flashes reportedly “giving the impression of being in a permanent lightning storm”.

“It was a really terrifying visual and auditory assault, which was even more unbearable at night,” Mr F said. 

The couple experienced headaches, loss of sleep, fatigue, dizziness, tinnitus, and even fainting and blackouts.

No support from firms

The couple initially attempted to contact the wind farm companies but received no response. Both firms have their headquarters in Deux-Sèvres, far from the wind farm itself.

This lack of response continued for two years, Mr F said.

He explained: “These companies produce green energy far from their own backyard, and they aren’t bothered about the people who live there.

“Despite our requests, we did not receive any support, neither from the commune, nor from the department or the region. We realised that the financial gain brought by the wind turbines to the communities takes precedence over the well-being of the local residents." 

The couple discovered that the turbines bring in an income of €100,000 to the nearby communes.

On the advice of their doctor, the couple decided to move. Mr F said: “Living there had become unbearable. We had to move into a rental property 17km away from our house.”

Soon after the couple moved in January 2016, their health complaints disappeared, they said.

Court case

In 2015, the couple had begun proceedings to take their case to court. They sought compensation from the two wind farm companies at the Castres court. During the case, the property was examined by both a medical and sonometric team.

The latter team concluded that the wind turbines emit inaudible low-frequency sounds, dubbed infrasounds. 

Ms Terrasse, the couple’s lawyer explained: “The wind farm was therefore acknowledged as a source of nuisance”, and the couple was found to be victims of ‘wind turbine syndrome’ – a condition that is not officially recognised in France.

These findings were rebuked by the companies. 

Their lawyer Mr Alexandre Brugière said that both the French Académie de médecine and l’Agence nationale de l'environnement currently state that “no link can be proven between infrasounds and disorders often alleged by claimants”.

He added that the couple’s problems could have actually been caused by stress at the visual sight of the turbines after the wood was razed.

In January 2020, the Castres court threw out the couple’s case, judging that the ‘nuisance’ was not significant enough, and did not go beyond normal neighbourhood annoyances. 

The couple appealed the ruling. 

They claimed that the Castres judge did not acknowledge the long-term consequences of the turbines, including that in addition to their physical and mental health problems, their farmhouse is now unsellable, and their plans to run a gite business in tatters.

Finding in favour

In July this year, a court in Toulouse found in favour of the couple. It recognised the ‘wind turbine syndrome’ and the change in their health as a result of the turbines.

Lawyer Ms Terrasse said: “This syndrome is not officially recognised in France, but the definition established by the World Health Organisation (WHO) cannot be denied by the justice system.”

Since 2018, the WHO Environmental Noise Guidelines have included “wind turbine noise” as a source of noise considered to be “one of the top environmental hazards to both physical and mental health and well-being”.

The couple was awarded €128,000 in damages, in recognition of the damage to their health and ‘abnormal’ neighbourhood annoyances.

The couple stated: “Our suffering has finally been recognised after so many years of legal proceedings.”

Yet, the farmhouse is still proving unsellable, despite having been on the market for three years. 

The couple said: “We have been forced to give up our life plan [to run a business here].”

Their lawyer is now seeking to use the case as proof that more legislation is required for the wind farm industry in rural areas.

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