French court orders dismantling of two wind farms

13 December 2013

On 17 September the Tribunal de grande instance (TGI) de  Montpellier ordered La Compagnie du Vent (part of the GDF Suez Group) to dismantle the Tambours and Bourbers-sur-Canches wind farms in the north of France, because  they affected the right of property of neighbouring land owners. The wind farms are visible from the Château de Flers, a  historic monument located in the Normandy countryside. The owners of the château plan to  convert it into a luxury hotel with an '18th century feel', but found that the wind farms had since been erected and subsequently brought an action under article 544  of the French Civil Code, which provides that:
Property is the right to enjoy and dispose of things in the most  absolute manner, provided it is not used in a manner prohibited by law  or regulation.
The Court determined that the wind farms create 'unusual,  permanent and unbearable circumstances, surpassing what is normally  acceptable from neighbours', and ordered the dismantling of the wind farms. It awarded damage to the plaintiffs. The court found that the wind farms infringe on the right to property because they:
- are unsightly (prejudice esthétique) as they lead to 'environmental degradation resulting in a complete distortion of the  bucolic and rustic landscape, which is more severe than and not  comparable to modifying an urban environment with the construction of a  new building or a wall';  
- cause noise pollution due to 'the permanent humming and whistling of  the turbines, even if below the regulatory noise limit, requiring basic  noise protection measures be taken and creating a health risk recognised  by the national academy of medicine...'; and  
- lead to sight pollution (prejudice d'atteinte à la vue) due  to the 'red and white lights that flash every two seconds throughout the  day and night, fatiguing the eyes and creating strain and stress, which,  when there is sun, creates a strobe and varying shadow effect'.
The Court further held that the wind farms create a prejudice  moral and a loss of opportunity awarding discretionary damages, because the owners would not be able to convert the château into a hotel of the kind they wanted to develop. According to a spokesperson from the SPPEF (Society for the Protection  of the Landscape and Aesthetics in France), 50% of French wind farm  developments are currently being challenged in the courts. It is understood that GDF Suez has lodged an appeal against the decision.

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