“Wildlife, offshore wind turbines a bad mix” (Texas)


Black terns

Billy Sandifer, Corpus Christi Caller-Times (10/25/11)

I have fished Padre Island for 53 years and have been the only licensed fishing guide and naturalist providing tours on the National Seashore for the past 22 years. On average I am down island about 128 days per year. I am the founder of the Big Shell Beach Cleanup and have been its primary organizer for the past 17 years. During that time, 2.3 million pounds of debris has been removed by this volunteer effort. In 2010, I was chosen as one of the six Heroes of Conservation by Field & Stream Magazine. I received the first ever Lifetime Conservation Award from the Coastal Conservation Association and this year was the popular choice winner of the Making a Difference Award competition sponsored by Sports Fishing Magazine.

Hopefully this qualifies me to comment on the natural resources of the Coastal Bend.

Billy Sandifer

In early September I encountered what I roughly estimated were 750,000 black terns on Padre Island National Seashore. This represents only a fraction of the native and migratory birds on the island. Padre is recognized as a Globally Important Bird Area by the American Bird Conservancy and a site of hemispheric importance by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network.

Following that sighting of black terns I spent the next seven days and a night down island. The number of birds I counted fluctuated greatly. One day I’d see 300 to 400 terns and on another day I estimated 350,000 birds. This was not a migration in or out of the area. On the contrary, the birds were coming and going to feed on incoming schools of dusky anchovies that wander near shore and offshore this time of year. When these huge shoals of anchovies are five or 10 miles offshore the birds follow, but they don’t return to shore when they’re not feeding. They simply sleep on the water to remain near their prey. All pelagic and shore birds that eat fish are attracted to schools of anchovies, menhaden and other such foraging species.

If hundreds of wind turbines are erected in the Gulf of Mexico within proximity of Padre Island, then baitfish will be drawn instinctively to the protective structure in the same way they are drawn to oil and gas platforms. And in turn the birds will follow.

But unlike oil and gas platforms, when the birds are drawn to feed or rest on these massive structures, they will be in peril.

Installing a bank of wind turbines reaching 700 feet above the water’s surface spread over 60,000 acres five to 10 miles off the Padre Island beach would be like chumming the birds into the killing blades.

I have a 25-foot boat that I regularly take offshore during migration season. I see wood warblers, hummingbirds, ducks, peregrine falcons, Hudson godwits and egrets migrating within 700 feet above the surface of the sea. There is no way to accurately record the number of birds that will be killed by these turbines. The Padre Island National Seashore’s list of other concerns includes the possibility of turbines interfering with the homing instincts of sea turtles, thereby jeopardizing decades of effort by Donna Shaver.

Why in the name of God would anyone who cares anything about the environment possibly pick this location for such a gigantic wind farm?

I live in a rather harsh and very real world. And I’ve learned some things. When you pull a trigger you can’t stop the bullet. It’s gone. Like an extinct species, there is no amount of “what-ifs” or “if we had just done something” that will bring them back.

But there is still time in this case. If we stand up for what we know is right and organize we can stop these Cuisinarts of the sky from coming.

As a native son of Texas and a lifelong resident of the Coastal Bend, I consider the beauty of our sunrises over the Gulf and abundance of wildlife not only a blessing but a birthright to behold. These are the things that residents and visitors alike treasure. And these are the things we have been entrusted to keep for our children and grandchildren.

Wind farms don’t make aesthetic sense, environmental sense or economic sense for the Coastal Bend. The fact that they have to be subsidized by our tax dollars should be an indication that they might not be in our best interest.And most of all I’m terribly offended by people willing to destroy my view of the Gulf horizon while unnecessarily killing thousands of birds for their own profit. Let’s keep our Texas wild, say no to these profiteers and stop the madness.


Why “Big Wind’s” noise measurements are a big fat lie

“Dynamic measurements of wind turbine acoustic signals, employing sound quality engineering methods considering the time and frequency sensitivities of human perception.”   Presented at NOISE-CON 2011, Portland, Oregon, July 25-27, 2011.  Click here for a PDF of the paper.

Richard James & Wade Bray

Summary:  What this paper adds to the discussion of wind turbine noise and potential adverse health effects

(The following was lightly edited by WTS.com to conform to the Chicago Manual of Style.)

The reason the wind industry experts can claim that wind turbines produce insignificant levels of infrasound and low frequency sound is not because there isn’t any, but because the instruments and methods they use cannot detect it.  In effect, they go hunting for a needle in the haystack using a magnet, when the problem is the needle is made of plastic.

When analyzed using a tool that can detect it, we find that infrasound and low frequency noise are there and they are there at Sound Pressure Levels (SPL’s) much higher than previously considered likely.

The infrasound from wind turbines in fact rises and falls in Sound Pressure Level (also called Amplitude Modulation) at a very rapid rate (approximately 60 milliseconds from peak to peak) and with a high dynamic range—phenomena too fast to be “noticed” when standard acoustical filters are used to isolate this region of acoustic energy.  (Note, first of all, that a millisecond is one-thousandth of a second.  Secondly, according to the American National Standards Institute, a 1 Hertz, 1/3-octave filter has an impulse response of about 5 seconds.)

The understating of the true peaks that occurs during analysis, using conventional acoustical instruments and methods, effectively flattens and stretches out the dynamic modulation (crest factor), leading to the misconception that the levels are insignificant.

This study shows that, when analyzed according to the time response of the human transducer, the peaks of the energy waves can be above 90 dB Sound Pressure Level (SPL).  When combined with the findings of Dr. Alec Salt, our analysis shows that the dynamically modulated infrasound can be perceived by the auditory system at levels that are below the conventionally-determined threshold of audibility.

It is the short duration and extent of the change in sound pressure, rather than the overall energy level, that is stimulating the vestibular system.  Hence, the issue is not the average energy, but the short duration, peak values, and extent of change in energy—assuming that some lower threshold, like Dr. Salt’s 60 dBG for cochlear Outer Hair Cell (OHC) activity, has been reached.

Farmers refuse wind turbine leases because of health impacts (Australia)

“Backlash for wind farms over health impacts”

This image was not part of the original article—Editor

—John McCarthy, The Courier-Mail (10/22/11)

The war between farmers and energy companies has moved into a new phase with the emergence of plans for a massive expansion of wind farms in Queensland.

Some farmers in the South Burnett have already walked away from lucrative payouts from wind farm companies of $140,000 a year because of feared impacts on their health and their business.

While the struggle against coal seam gas, coal mines and underground coal gasification rages in other parts of the state, companies like AGL and Ratch (formerly Transfield) are pushing investment of about $3 billion in wind farm technology and getting support from farmers.

The Energy Users Association this week released a report showing Australia will need to spend about $30 billion on wind farms by 2020 to meet with the Government’s renewable energy targets.

But there is also a backlash based on apparent impacts on the health of those living near similar facilities in South Australia and Victoria, as well as north Queensland.

Colin Walkden lives about 400m from the Windy Hill wind turbine, near Ravenshoe, in north Queensland, and is on medication for depression because of sleep loss allegedly caused by the constant noise from turbines.

“It’s like no other noise you have ever heard,” he said describing it as a strong whooshing sound that persists with a westerly wind. “That’s about 90 per cent of the year.”

South Australian farmer Andy Thomas lives near six turbines at Mt Bryan. In an affidavit in a case against the wind farm, Mr Thomas said the turbine noise was like a jet passing overhead.

“From my home, I can hear five or more turbines at the same time, so it is like having five or more jets overhead at once. At its worst it is like living next to a ball mill of the type used at mines to crush ore,” he said.

AGL is now planning a $1 billion, 115 tower wind farm at Coopers Gap, in the South Burnett, while a second project at Kumbia at the base of the Bunya Mountains for about 50 towers has been stalled by farmer opposition. There is also a $1.5 billion plan for 300 turbines outside Mt Isa and other smaller proposals across the state.

Coopers Gap horse breeder Brian Lyons has rejected advances from AGL, despite a potentially big payout of $12,000 a year for each of the 20 turbines planned on his property.

“It’s quite a good business for some of (the farmers), but I’m only going to live once,” he said.

Despite his rejecting the approach, his neighbours are backing the scheme and it is possible Mr Lyons will still have turbines on his boundary only a short distance from his house.

He said there were at least four wind farm proposals in southern Queensland, with his own community faced with a large new industry that initially they knew very little about.

While the industry maintains the wind farms generate only a small amount of noise, several residents complain it is as loud as a jet engine and that the noise is directional, meaning some residents may not hear it while others will.

“I don’t think a company with noise problems at its last operating wind farm should be treated any different to any other industry in Queensland,” Mr Lyons said.

Local councillor Cheryl Dalton said low-frequency vibration was also an issue. “I don’t understand why consideration hasn’t been given to buying all the affected properties,” she said.

As yet, there is no planning application before the South Burnett Council and there is confusion over whether it or the State Government will be the one who assesses the development.

Kumbia cattle farmer Paul Newman rallied local residents to a community meeting which overwhelmingly rejected a plan by Next Wind for a 53-turbine farm nearby. His compensation offer was worth about $140,000 a year, but he considered the project just as intrusive to his neighbours and the local community as that of a mine or an industrial development.

“Money is not the solution to everything,” he said.

He said that to live in a rural community you had to consider your neighbours and how a future project might hurt them.

AGL did not respond to requests for an interview.


WTS victims protest (Cape Cod, MA)

Place?  Bourne, MA, at the traffic circle by the Cape Cod bridge

Who?  Falmouth, MA, victims of Wind Turbine Syndrome

Date?  October 10, 2011





Wind energy bullies—and a burning barn (Vermont)

Painting by Edward Hopper, with appreciation

Willem Post, Guest Editor (10/14/11)

Green Mountain Power (GMP) is offering to buy the Don & Shirley Nelson’s hillside farm at the asking price, to prove that real estate values do not decline due to noisy, 460-ft tall wind turbines on 2,000 ft high ridge lines, and to get the Nelson’s invited guests off the Nelson’s land so GMPs dynamite blasters can proceed with the partial destruction of Lowell Mountain.

If the Nelsons do not agree to sell and do not agree to remove their guests from their land, GMP will take the Nelsons to court and sue them for about $1,000,000.  (The Nelson’s are an elderly couple.)

Shirley & Don Nelson

This is a public relations disaster for Vermont’s wind energy oligarchy, that will be heard all over the world during Vermont’s foliage season.

GMP’s wind turbine facility, calling itself Kingdom Community Wind, is much larger than Vermonters had in mind when they agreed to wind power. They had in mind facilities more in line with Vermont notions of “small is beautiful” and complying with State Act 250.

They had in mind not ruining ridge lines with 21 strobe lights, cutting hundreds of trees without permission, filling in wetlands, building roads to haul up rotor blades that are 180 ft long, and building 21 wind turbine monsters on environmentally-pristine, 2,000 ft high ridgelines. The wind turbines make lots of noise, especially low frequency noise and infrasound, which are exceptionally harmful to people—noise that is, for all intents and purposes, ignored during “expedited” public hearings.

GMP is building this project not for Vermonters, but for its parent company in Quebec which will reap the financial benefits. The high costs of the expensive, variable wind energy will all be rolled into jobs-destroying higher electric rates for Vermont households.

Wind energy subsidized with an equivalent of 50% of the capital cost:  9.6 cents/kWh.

Average annual grid prices in New England: 5cents/kWh

That is just what working Vermonters “need”: paying for flood damage with higher gas taxes, a miserable economy, rising prices of goods and services, higher electric rates, and an irrationally-exuberant, renewables-vendor-inspired Vermont Energy Plan with 90% renewables to outdo the Germans (who are going for 50% by 2050).

The real kicker is that several recent, independent studies, based on real time, 1/4-hour grid operation data sets, performed in the US (Colorado and Texas) and the Netherlands have shown that wind energy does not reduce CO2 emissions, because gas-fired, quick-ramping gas turbine balancing plants are needed to operate at partial-load to be able to quickly ramp up when wind energy ebbs, and to quickly ramp down when wind energy surges.

This part-load-ramping operation is very inefficient for gas turbines, requiring extra fuel/kWh, resulting in extra CO2 emissions/kWh. The extra fuel and extra CO2 emissions mostly offset the fuel and CO2 wind energy was meant to reduce.

It would be much wiser and more economical to shift subsidies away from expensive renewables that produce just a little of variable, intermittent energy. Those renewables would not be needed if we used those funds for increased energy efficiency, because”energy efficiency”

  • provides the quickest and biggest “bang for the buck”
  • it is invisible
  • it does not destroy pristine ridgelines or upset mountain water runoffs
  • it would more effectively reduce CO2
  • it would create 3 times the jobs at less cost per job all over Vermont
  • it would not coddle the wind oligarchy in Vermont and Quebec
  • it could be accomplished without public resistance and controversy—and barns suddenly getting torched

Nelson barn, August 13, 2010

Don Nelson remembers Friday the 13th of August last year.

“I saw those flames go out the door with no smoke and I said: ‘The barn’s on fire!’ And I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”

Nelson had slept past his normal dawn rising. Soon after he poured coffee, he saw his red barn erupt in flames.

“It didn’t go bang. It went ‘woooom!’ And then ‘wooom!’ like that. And the first one, it forced the flames right through the cracks in the roofing.”

Balls of flame leveled the barn within 30 minutes. State police couldn’t determine a cause. Nelson thinks his barn was torched. And he thinks his opposition to the wind project might have been why.

“All I know is that it’s a $160 million project and the town of Lowell is going to get $400,000-$500,000 a year. Money changes people. I don’t know. How do I know? All I know is: I know the barn was set, and I know that we didn’t set it.”

John Dillon, Vermont Public Radio News (2/1/11)

Court case to watch! (Australia)

“Case puts wind farms in doubt”

This image was not included in the original article—Editor

—Rebecca Puddy, The Australian (10/14/11)

A court challenge in South Australia could disrupt plans to develop wind farms across the country after AGL Energy conceded tests at its wind farm in the state’s northeast detected a tonal noise above government-set limits.

The legal challenge by South Australian farmer Bill Quinn centres on an argument that the turbines in AGL Energy’s Hallett Wind Farm emit excessive noise that results in the sleep deprivation of residents living within 3.5km.

“It’s the noise of the things and how close they are to houses,” Mr Quinn said yesterday.

“The sound flows like water from the blades of the turbines, and it’s so bad up around Mount Bryan that many people have been forced to move away.”

The Victorian government last month honoured an election promise to place strict controls on how close wind farm developments could be built in proximity to houses and regional towns.

In NSW, the O’Farrell government is reviewing restrictions on wind farm developments that could put similar controls in place.

After losing his court case in the state’s environment court in November last year, Mr Quinn yesterday began his appeal to the Supreme Court to overturn the Goyder Council’s approval for AGL Energy to develop Hallett Wind Farm, a project comprised of five wind farms and more than 200 turbines.

Mr Quinn’s appeal hinges on new evidence discovered since losing his initial court case: evidence AGL found wind turbines at Hallett Wind Farm emitted an audible tonal noise.

In a statement to the Supreme Court, Mr Quinn’s counsel, Brian Hayes QC, said noise testing conducted since the initial trial had resulted in AGL shutting down eight of its turbines and showed neither AGL’s existing wind farm nor the proposed wind farm were “capable of satisfying the Environmental Protection Authority’s wind turbine noise limit of 40 decibels”.

The manufacturer of the turbines, Suzlon, continues to expand its operations in Australia. In August, it announced plans to build a further 180 turbines on South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula.


Senator, worried about WTS, calls for turbine moratorium (Wisconsin)

State Senator Lasee introduces bill to ban wind turbines in Wisconsin.  Says research is needed to show wind farms are safe

—Doug Schneider, Green Bay Press-Gazette (10/11/11)

Glenmore, Wisconsin—The sights and sounds outside her son’s window made Sarah Cappelle consider something once unthinkable: Trying to sell the home in which her family has lived for generations.

The two-story house off Glenmore Road has become less dream, more nightmare since wind turbines were erected in 2010 on farmland just to the southeast.

Worries about the effects of the structures prompted Cappelle and husband Dave to stand in support Monday as state Sen. Frank Lasee, R-Ledgeview, proposed a state ban on wind-turbine construction until studies have deemed the turbines don’t harm humans and animals.

“It’s not fair to put something so noisy and so large so close to people, unless you can be sure it’s safe,” Lasee said.

A bill he introduced Monday would declare a moratorium on construction of wind farms until the state Public Service Commission is in possession of a report that ensures turbines like those dotting the landscape in this southern Brown County town don’t cause health problems. He wasn’t sure if the bill would gain the support needed for passage in the chamber, but said proposing it is the right thing to do.

Wind farms have prompted passionate debate, but limited agreement, on their long-term impacts on humans. And lack of regulatory agreement in Wisconsin, particularly on the issue of how far a turbine must be from a property line, has tempered developers’ enthusiasm about erecting wind farms. A corporation earlier this year scrapped plans for a 100-turbine development in the Morrison-Glenmore area.

Backers of wind energy say it is a clean, safer alternative to coal and nuclear energy, pointing to the fact that they don’t consume fuel and don’t produce ash or other waste. They also say wind-development could create thousands of jobs in technology and construction. Opponents say turbines can be noisy, unsightly, problematic for birds and bats and, most important, cause vertigo and sleep disorders. Concerns are growing about a condition labeled “wind-turbine syndrome,” and a daylight phenomenon called “shadow flicker.”

Regulators say the state’s wind developments are safe, and that they fall within noise-emission limits.

The Cappelles believe their toddler son’s inability to sleep, their 6-year-old’s recurring ear infections and Sarah’s never-ending colds are a product of the Shirley Wind development near their home.

They say that family members had never had health problems until the turbine near their house went into service last fall. That prompted consultation with a real estate agent — where they learned that no one likely would pay fair market value for a house with a view of a wind turbine.

“My mother grew up here. My grandmother was here for 50 years,” Sarah Cappelle said. “This is where I always wanted to raise our kids. But now, I’m not sure if we should stay.”

Lasee said he knows of at least three Glenmore-area families who have left their homes because of health problems that, while not formally diagnosed, didn’t appear until nearby turbines went on-line.

“There’s no impact to human health!” Really? (Ohio)

“Can turbines generate health problems?”

This image was not part of the original article—Editor

—Lou Wilin, The Courier.com (Ohio), 10/5/11

Living close to wind turbines can hurt your peace of mind, job performance and health, according to some health experts and researchers.

“If you’re within a mile, you’re asking for trouble,” said Alex Salt, an otolaryngology professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

Air Energy TCI, a company which plans to erect wind turbines between Arcadia, Fostoria and New Riegel, would locate some within one-third of a mile of a home, the company’s development manager, Rory Cantwell, said Tuesday. He said Air Energy’s standard exceeds the state standard by more than 500 feet.

Brett O’Connor BA Civil Engineering, TCI Renewables, from the website

“(Wind turbines) don’t emit enough noise to do any permanent damage,” said Brett O’Connor, operations director for TCI Renewables in North America, the parent corporation of Air Energy. “All thoroughly peer-reviewed, properly conducted scientific analysis has concluded that there is no impact to human health.”

Professor Alec Salt, PhD, Department of Otolaryngology, School of Medicine, Washington University (St. Louis, MO)

But Salt, who has studied the ear for 37 years, said wind turbines can, and do, cause some people problems. He has company.

In her book, “Wind Turbine Syndrome,” Dr. Nina Pierpont of Malone, N.Y., tells about some neighbors of wind turbines experiencing ear and health problems.

Sleep disturbance, memory and concentration problems, headaches, dizziness and nausea, and ringing or buzzing in the ears are among their troubles, Pierpont said. Those problems can lead to further health deterioration, said Pierpont and Salt: high blood pressure and heart palpitations.

Nina Pierpont, BA (Yale), MA & PhD (Princeton), MD (Johns Hopkins), formerly clinical professor of Pediatrics, College of Physicians & Surgeons, Columbia University (NY)

“There are really distinct effects on susceptible people,” Pierpont said. “You just can’t function in this. It’s like you’re wading through mud mentally. You’re sick.”

Susceptible are those older than 50; those with migraine disorder, motion sensitivity, and existing inner ear damage from, say, exposure to industrial or military noise; and toddlers and early school-age children, she said.

Wind turbines produce low-frequency sounds, which the industry says cause no trouble because people do not hear them.

“That’s absolutely false,” Salt said. “The ear is designed so you don’t hear low-frequency sounds, but it isn’t insensitive to them. Those sounds are still going in and they are still being transfused. Even though you don’t hear it, it wakes you up.”

Salt said people over time have adapted to not notice their own body’s low-frequency sounds, like breathing and heartbeat. But when it comes to wind turbine sounds, sooner or later the brain notices they come from outside the body, and that’s when the trouble starts, Salt said.

For some, the trouble starts within a few weeks. For others, it happens immediately.

“People have difficulty describing the problem they’re having. It’s not a sound you’re hearing. It’s an uncomfortable feeling in your ears,” Salt said. “It’s a perceiving. You’re not hearing. It’s a fullness or a stuffiness in your ear.”

“It’s an odd feeling,” he said. “It’s close to motion sickness.”

Unfortunately, by the time residents experience problems, the wind farm has set up shop and enlisting its help is difficult, said Carmen Krogh, a board member for the Society for Wind Vigilance in Killaloe, Ontario. Wind turbines are more pervasive in Ontario than in Ohio.

“Once the turbines are established, it’s hard to get any kind of resolution to health troubles,” she said.

The health of those affected can deteriorate while they battle for years with a wind turbine company, Krogh said. Some people have abandoned their homes, rented elsewhere or moved in with a relative, she said.

Now, you can sue Big Wind! Maybe.

Editor’s note
:  WTS.com has long recommended against suing the wind developers and town boards, urging instead civil disobedience.  But times are changing, and the chances of a big lawsuit being successful are looking more promising, indeed.

One of our readers put us on to this article in today’s Wall Street Journal.  This may be the route to take.  A truly large lawsuit.  It seems to us that with a high-powered law firm, and several million dollars invested in the lawsuit (invested by the law firm), there’s a better than even chance of winning against Big Wind and against town boards—like the Falmouth, Mass., town board.  

The problem with lawsuits heretofore has been that people couldn’t afford them.  According to this article, below, they’re now affordable—if you can persuade the law firm to seize the opportunity.  Up till now, lawsuits have involved small-time attorneys on a shoestring budget.  Big mistake!  If you’re going to take the legal route, you’re going to need a big ass law firm with a budget in the several millions, at least.  In part to hire expert witnesses, both to testify in person and to write the lengthy reports and rebuttals that will be required of them (which takes them hundreds of hours to write).  The law firms will also want to subpoena all sorts of documents, including email, from the wind companies and town boards.  This is time and money.  

WTS.com can say this with assurance.  Dr. Nina Pierpont, who is often asked to be an expert witness and yet routinely declines, would likely agree to be an expert witness in a big-ass suit—a suit that’s well funded and being handled by a major firm that’s prepared to “go the distance” with evidence, and whose attorneys have the training and brains to do a first-class job.  

Think about it.  If you need persuading, read this article recently posted on our site.  Focus on the bald-faced lies by the wind industry.  Does that make your blood boil?  Especially if you’re one of the victims interviewed in the article?  Read the rejoinder (Comment #1) by Chicago-based real estate appraiser, Mike McCann.  Why couldn’t a serious law firm, with a well bankrolled lawsuit, prevail against this industry sleaze?  Lying and deceit so fundamentally stupid, blatant, and frankly corny, one would expect it of an 8-year-old, not an adult, for God’s sake!

This image was not included in the original article—Editor

“Funds Spring Up to Invest in High-Stakes Litigation”

—Vanessa O’Connell, Wall Street Journal (10/3/11)

Lawyers-turned-financiers are laying plans to profit from what they hope will be the new hot investment: high-stakes U.S. lawsuits.

At least three start-up businesses are entering the fledgling “alternative litigation funding” market this year, creating funds that will invest at least a few million dollars in a case in exchange for a share of the lawsuit’s winnings, which can be in the several-million-dollar or even billion-dollar range.

One of the newcomers is John P. “Sean” Coffey, a former plaintiff lawyer at Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann LLP and a former lead trial lawyer for investors in the case against Wall Street banks arising from the collapse of the former telecom company WorldCom Inc.

After helping WorldCom investors recover more than $50 million from the pockets of former WorldCom officers and directors, Mr. Coffey unsuccessfully sought the 2010 Democratic nomination for New York state attorney general. Now, on the 31st floor of a midtown Manhattan office building, he is focusing on maximizing returns for investors from high-stakes commercial litigation via a commercial-claim investor called BlackRobe Capital Partners LLC. BlackRobe is currently exploring ways to raise capital.

The idea has critics, who worry about a possible rise in frivolous lawsuits and increased pressure on defendants to settle. But some forms of third-party litigation funding have been around for decades. Search the Web for “lawsuit loans,” and you’ll find hundreds of companies offering cash advances, generally of up to $10,000, to people with personal-injury claims to help them offset living expenses while their claims are pending. There have also been occasional “syndicated lawsuits,” allowing investors to pay a plaintiff’s legal costs and gamble on receiving part of a monetary judgment or settlement.

The new breed of profit-seeker sees a huge, untapped market for betting on high-stakes commercial claims. After all, companies will spend about $15.5 billion this year on U.S. commercial litigation and an additional $2.6 billion on intellectual-property litigation, according to estimates by BTI Consulting Group Inc., a Wellesley, Mass., research firm that surveyed 300 large companies in 2011.

Backers say litigation funding will help to increase the number of legitimate claims that reach the legal system. Potential users of capital include small companies seeking to level the playing field against bigger opponents and publicly traded companies seeking off-balance-sheet financing for their litigation. “We have and will continue to entertain the use of third-party funding under the appropriate circumstances,” says Tom Sager, general counsel of chemical maker DuPont Co., who cites the rising cost of litigation in the U.S.

The business is gaining cautious backing from some partners within major U.S. law firms, including Latham & Watkins LLP, Patton Boggs LLP and Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP. The funders provide lawyers with potential referrals of new clients. They also provide an “extra measure of security that the legal fees are going to be paid without incident,” notes Barry R. Ostrager, a senior partner at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, whose standard rate is more than $1,000 an hour. In 2009, he introduced client Gray Development Group to a litigation-financing firm for funding of its July 2010 suit against a Chicago developer. Gray won the case.

“The added capital allowed us to upgrade the legal team without betting the company’s entire future on the outcome of one lawsuit,” says Bruce Gray, chairman of Gray Development, one of the largest apartment developers in Arizona.

Critics have philosophical concerns. John Beisner, a Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP partner, told a House subcommittee in May that litigation funding threatens to increase frivolous claims and exacerbate litigation abuse by making “unlimited amounts of money available to litigants and attorneys.” He spoke on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“Investors are thinking, what’s the one thing you can always count on being around? It’s litigation. Let’s try to profit from that!” Mr. Beisner adds. “Is that what our litigation system is supposed to be about?”

Others worry that defendants might feel unfairly pressured to settle. The funders tend to bet on patent or antitrust cases for the biggest profit, but “the potential downsides for the defendants are huge,” says Joanna Shepherd-Bailey, an associate professor at Emory University School of Law. She cites a possibility of treble damages and preliminary injunctions as examples of “negative side effects that can ruin a company.”

Mr. Coffey says “the funding is not only going to result in more legitimate claims being brought, it’s going to result in more effective prosecution of claims that have been filed.”

“There are some claims that are prosecuted that are starved a little for oxygen,” he says. “Some claims that are being prosecuted somewhat anemically would be prosecuted more robustly.”

In the past, common law prohibited third-party financing of a lawsuit, as well as the acquisition of an interest in a lawsuit’s winnings. Currently, laws vary from state to state, Prof. Shepherd-Bailey says, and no U.S. court has yet considered the legality of third-party finance of commercial claims.

At the moment, BlackRobe is using space at the New York office of law firm Patton Boggs. It expects to move in the next few months, Mr. Coffey says.

Down the hall, rival Fulbrook Management LLC is subleasing from Patton Boggs. Founded in March by a former Latham senior partner, Fulbrook says it looks for cases with a potential recovery of $25 million or more on investments of $1 million to $10 million. It promises to provide “professional and commercial support for claims” it backs, says founder Selvyn Seidel. It plans to raise “a pool of capital that will be a serious fund” soon, he adds.

Another new U.S. player, Bentham Capital LLC, opened for business last Monday, and it’s focusing on commercial and intellectual-property litigation, according to its chief investment officer, Ralph Sutton, a former lawyer at Cowan, DeBaets, Abrahams, & Sheppard LLP. Bentham’s parent, IMF Australia Ltd., has more than 87 million Australian dollars in assets.

Two existing players—Juridica Investments Ltd. and Burford Capital Ltd., both hedge funds publicly traded in the U.K.—reported promising results last month.

Wind turbines devastate property value (CBC News, Ontario)

“Ontario wind power bringing down property values”

 None of the images on this page were included in the CBC article—Editor

—John Nicol & Dave Seglins, CBC News (10/1/11)

Ontario’s rapid expansion in wind power projects has provoked a backlash from rural residents living near industrial wind turbines who say their property values are plummeting and they are unable to sell their homes, a CBC News investigation has found.

The government and the wind energy industry have long maintained turbines have no adverse effects on property values, health or the environment.

The CBC has documented scores of families who’ve discovered their property values are not only going downward, but also some who are unable to sell and have even abandoned their homes because of concerns nearby turbines are affecting their health.

I have to tell you not a soul has come to look at it,” says Stephana Johnston, 81, of Clear Creek, a hamlet in Haldimand County on the north shore of Lake Erie, about 60 kilometres southeast of London.

Stephana Johnston

Johnston, a retired Toronto teacher, moved here six years ago to build what she thought would be her dream home. But in 2008, 18 industrial wind turbines sprung up near her property and she put the one-floor, wheelchair-accessible home up for sale.

“My hunch is that people look at them and say: ‘As nice as the property is going south, looking at the lake, we don’t want to be surrounded by those turbines.’ Can’t say that I blame them.”

Johnston says she has suffered so many ill health effects, including an inability to sleep — which she believes stem from the noise and vibration of the turbines— that she now sleeps on a couch in her son’s trailer, 12 kilometres away, and only returns to her house to eat breakfast and dinner and use the internet.

Industry rejects claims of lower land values

Meanwhile, the industry rejects claims of lower land values.

“Multiple studies, and particularly some very comprehensive ones from the United States have consistently shown the presence of wind turbines does not have any statistically significant impact on property values,” says Robert Hornung of the Ottawa-based Canadian Wind Energy Association (CANWEA).

While acknowledging a lack of peer-reviewed studies in Ontario, Hornung says CanWEA commissioned a study of the Chatham-Kent area, where new wind turbines are appearing, and found no evidence of any impact on property values.

“In fact,” says Hornung, “we’ve recently seen evidence coming from Re/Max indicating that we’re seeing farm values throughout Ontario, including the Chatham-Kent area, increasing significantly this year as wind energy is being developed in the area at the same time.”

However, Ron VandenBussche, a Re/Max agent along the Lake Erie shore, said the reality is that the wind turbines reduce the pool of interested buyers, and ultimately the price of properties.

Ron VandenBussche

“It’s going to make my life more difficult,” says VandenBussche, who has been a realtor for 38 years. “There’s going to be people that would love to buy this particular place, but because the turbines are there, it’s going to make it more difficult, no doubt.”

Kay Armstrong is one example. She put her two-acre, waterfront property up for sale before the turbines appeared in Clear Creek, for what three agents said was a reasonable price of $270,000.

Two years after the turbines appeared, she took $175,000, and she felt lucky to do that — the property went to someone who only wanted to grow marijuana there for legal uses.

I had to get out,” said Armstrong. “It was getting so, so bad. And I had to disclose the health issues I had. I was told by two prominent lawyers that I would be sued if the ensuing purchasers were to develop health problems.”

Realtor association finds 20 to 40 per cent drops in value

Armstrong’s experience is backed up in a study by Brampton-based realtor Chris Luxemburger. The president of the Brampton Real Estate Board examined real estate listings and sales figures for the Melancthon-Amaranth area, home to 133 turbines in what is Ontario’s first and largest industrial wind farm.

Chris Luxemburger

“Homes inside the windmill zones were selling for less and taking longer to sell than the homes outside the windmill zones,” said Luxemburger.

On average, from 2007 to 2010, he says properties adjacent to turbines sold for between 20 and 40 per cent less than comparable properties that were out of sight from the windmills.

Power company sells at a loss

Land registry documents obtained by CBC News show that some property owners who complained about noise and health issues and threatened legal action did well if they convinced the turbine companies to buy them out.

Canadian Hydro Developers bought out four different owners for $500,000, $350,000, $305,000 and $302,670. The company then resold each property, respectively, for $288,400, $175,000, $278,000 and $215,000.

In total, Canadian Hydro absorbed just over half a million dollars in losses on those four properties.

The new buyers were required to sign agreements acknowledging that the wind turbine facilities may affect the buyer’s “living environment” and that the power company will not be responsible for or liable from any of the buyer’s “complaints, claims, demands, suits, actions or causes of action of every kind known or unknown which may arise directly or indirectly from the Transferee’s wind turbine facilities.”

The energy company admits the impacts may include “heat, sound, vibration, shadow flickering of light, noise (including grey noise) or any other adverse effect or combination thereof resulting directly or indirectly from the operation.”

TransAlta, the company that took over for Canadian Hydro, refused to discuss the specific properties it bought and then resold at a loss in Melancthon. But in an email to CBC, spokesman Glen Whelan cited the recession and other “business considerations” that “influence the cost at which we buy or sell properties, and to attribute purchase or sale prices to any one factor would be impossible.”

Province says no change to tax base

Ontario’s ministers of Energy, Municipal Affairs and Finance, all in the midst of an election campaign, declined requests for an interview.

That’s what makes them sick is that, you know, they’ll get less money for their properties, and that’s what’s causing all this annoyance and frustration.

—Environment Ministry lawyer Frederika Rotter

A spokesperson for Municipal Affairs says his ministry has no studies or information about the potential impact wind turbines are having on rural property values.

However, last February, before an environmental review tribunal in Chatham, Environment Ministry lawyer Frederika Rotter said: “We will see in the course of this hearing that lots of people are worried about windmills. They may not like the noise, they may think the noise makes them sick, but really what makes them sick is just the windmills being on the land because it does impact their property values.

“That’s what makes them sick is that, you know, they’ll get less money for their properties, and that’s what’s causing all this annoyance and frustration and all of that.”

When Energy Minister Brad Duguid declined comment, his staff referred CBC News to the Ministry of Finance, which oversees MPAC (the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation), which sets values on land for taxation purposes. They indicated that MPAC has no evidence wind turbines are driving down assessed values.

However, CBC found one household in Melancthon was awarded a 50-per-cent reduction in property tax because the house sat next to a transformer station for the turbines.

Losing the rural life

Almost all the people interviewed by the CBC rue the division between neighbours for and against the turbines, and said what they have lost is a sense of home and the idyllic life of living in the countryside.

Tracy Whitworth, who has a historic home in Clear Creek, refuses to sell it and instead has become a nomad, renting from place to place with her son, to avoid the ill effects of the turbines.

Tracy Whitworth

“My house sits empty — it’s been vandalized,” says Whitworth, a Clear Creek resident who teaches high school in Delhi. “I’ve had a couple of ‘Stop the wind turbine’ signs knocked down, mailbox broken off.

“I lived out there for a reason. It was out in the country. School’s very busy. When I come home, I like peace and quiet. Now, we have the turbines and the noise. Absolutely no wildlife. I used to go out in the morning, tend to my dogs, let my dogs run, and I’d hear the geese go over.

“And ugh! Now there’s no deer, no geese, no wild turkeys. Nothing.”

For the octogenarian Johnston, the fight is all more than she bargained for. She sank all her life savings, about $500,000, into the house, and she says she does not have the money to be able to hire a lawyer to fight for a buyout. But she is coming to the conclusion she must get a mortgage to try the legal route.

“I love being near the water and I thought, what a way to spend the rest of my days — every view is precious,” she said, as tears filled her eyes. “And I would not have that any more.

“And that is hard to reconcile and accept.”

Getting a mortgage on her house might not be that easy. CBC News has learned that already one bank in the Melancthon area is not allowing lines of credit to be secured by houses situated near wind turbines. In a letter to one family situated close to the turbines, the bank wrote, “we find your property a high risk and its future marketability may be jeopardized.”