A farmer in France is suing a wind developer for making his cows sick. That sounds like the start of a joke, but is actually a French court case that could have big ramifications for investors.
Here is the background. French dairy farmer Yann Joly is suing developer CSO Energy over a 24-turbine project installed in 2011 near his family farm in northern France. Joly says that, since the turbines were installed, his 120 cows have been drinking much less water and this has led to a large drop in milk production that has financially ruined him.
The upshot is Joly wants €359,000 (£260,000) and wants CSO to remove the turbines. The case is being heard in the French courts and a judgment is due in early 2016.
So far, so bizarre. But claims of wind farms damaging the health of humans and animals are an occupational risk for investors in this sector, so why single out this one?
The reason is that Joly’s case is based on evidence from Christiane Nansot, agricultural and land expert at the Amiens Court of Appeal, that gives us cause for concern. Nansot has written a report on the dispute saying there is a geographical fault under the site that could be amplifying vibrations from the turbines, and making the cows drink less. If the cows drink less then they also produce less milk.
Our problem is that there is confusion over Nansot’s conclusion.
On one hand, she did not conclusively blame CSO’s turbines and said there would need to be more research into similar projects.
But, on the other, she said that all other causes for the cows drinking less than expected had been ruled out. That lays the blame squarely on CSO when, by her own admission, she could not show a direct link between the turbines and the cows.
This should concern investors because of fairness. Wind developers are not monsters who are happy to ride roughshod over the health, wealth and happiness of their neighbours.
The vast majority of companies in this sector want to mitigate the impact of schemes on others, for the simple reason that it is then easier to gain consent and community support. They take time when designing projects to ensure that others are not unduly affected and, if there is a legitimate complaint, most would take reasonable steps to try to rectify it.
But it is not fair that a firm should be held responsible for a problem just because investigators have run out of other things to blame.
If the prosecution can prove that CSO did, in fact, destroy this farmer’s livelihood the farmer should get compensation. If it cannot prove this there is no reason why CSO should pay for something it has not done. And that brings us to why this case worries us.
If the French courts rule against CSO on the basis of questionable evidence then it puts other firms at risk from similarly shaky claims. It would set a dangerous precedent and put projects around the world at risk of dodgy legal action. And that is no joke.
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