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Power Struggle: Legal Battle Surrounding Wind Turbine Installations

Wind power has emerged as a significant player in the global pursuit of sustainable energy solutions, offering the promise of clean and renewable electricity generation. However, alongside its undeniable environmental benefits, wind power plants also can pose challenges, particularly concerning their impact on local communities.

This duality is vividly illustrated in the recently ruled legal case involving a wind farm operated by a company in Torres Vedras, Portugal, which was brought before the European Court of Human Rights.

In the presented case of Eólica De S. Julião, LDA c. Portugal number 33545/14 in front of the European Court of Human Rights, the Court in Portugal ordered the company to eliminate the wind turbines and award damages to the local residents, because of the noise pollution that the wind park was producing.

The applicant company complained to the European Court of Human Rights (“The Court”) under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the European Convention of Human Rights that the Supreme Court failed to strike a fair balance between the interests of the residents and the right to respect for the applicant’s possessions.

The facts of the case

The applicant company operates wind turbines producing power. In January 2005 the Torres Vedras Town Council and Directorate-General for Energy and Geology granted the applicant a permit to build a wind farm, and in 2006 the applicant was granted a provisional license to operate a wind farm.

In 2008 the local residents, alleging nuisance caused by the wind turbines (a constant buzz and glare), brought the applicant to the court of Torres Vedras. They applied for the court to eliminate the turbines and award damages. In 2011 the court dismissed the claim, holding that the operation of the turbines was in accordance with the law.

On appeal, the following year, the Lisbon Court of Appeal partially found for the plaintiffs, ordering the shutdown of one of the turbines and suspending the operation of the other three in the evening and at night.

Both parties made cassation appeals to the Supreme Court, which resulted in Court’s decision that ordered the immediate shutdown and removal of the four wind turbines. The applicant lodged a claim for annulment with the Supreme Court, but it was dismissed.

In March 2015, the applicant company dismantled the wind turbines.

The request of the applicant company

The applicant company submitted that by ordering the removal of four wind turbines located in a wind farm which it operated under a valid authorization, the Supreme Court ruled infringement of his right to respect for his property. She invoked Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention:

“Every natural or legal person has the right to have their property respected. No one may be deprived of their property except for reasons of public interest and under the conditions provided for by the law and the general principles of international law.”

In its response, the Government maintained that the applicant company was not the owner of a “property” within the meaning of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention, arguing that in the absence of having provided a report on the acoustic impact of the wind farm, although it had been invited to do so on several occasions, it did not satisfy one of the conditions imposed when it issued the operating authorization for the park, meaning that the applicant company only had a precarious right, which it could not rely on before the Court.

Court’s assessment

The Court examined the noise measurements, and used the World Health Organization’s Environmental Noise Guidelines issued in 1999, when determining the standards, as well as the regulations of the European Union.

It recalled that the notion of “property” within the meaning of the Convention has an independent scope which is not limited to the ownership of tangible property and which is independent of the formal qualifications of domestic law: certain other rights and interests constituting assets may also pass for “property rights” and therefore “property” for the purposes of the Convention.

The Court listed already ruled cases where it held a position that a license to operate a commercial activity constitutes property and that its withdrawal amounts to an infringement of the right guaranteed by Article 1 of Protocol No. 1.

The Court also repeated that neither the hope of seeing the revival of a property right which has been extinguished for a long time, nor a debt are to be considered as “property” within the meaning of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1. Therefore, it cannot be concluded that there is a “legitimate expectation” when there is controversy over the way in which domestic law should be interpreted and applied and the arguments developed by the applicant in this regard are ultimately rejected by the national courts.

The Court observed that the final operating authorization was issued conditionally to the applicant company “subject to the presentation of a report on the noise impact in the area where the park was located wind power”, noting that the conditions for the authorization weren’t met in the present case, since that report wasn’t presented.


Taking into account all the aforementioned factors, the Court concluded that the applicant company’s hope of operating the four disputed wind turbines was not sufficiently established and recognized by domestic law to constitute “property” within the meaning of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 of the Convention. The Court unanimously declared the case inadmissible.

In conclusion, the case of the wind farm operated by the applicant company in Torres Vedras, Portugal, serves as a poignant example of the delicate balance between the pursuit of renewable energy and the protection of local communities’ interests. While wind power offers undeniable environmental benefits, its implementation can lead to challenges, as seen in the legal disputes over noise pollution and property rights.

This case underscores the importance of conscientious planning and consideration for the needs of local communities when developing renewable energy projects. It highlights the necessity for thorough assessment of potential impacts, transparent communication with stakeholders, and proactive measures to mitigate adverse effects.

Furthermore, the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights reaffirms the principle that property rights, though crucial, must be balanced against broader societal interests and the well-being of affected individuals. It underscores the significance of upholding legal standards and ensuring fair and equitable treatment for all parties involved.

Moving forward, policymakers, energy developers, and communities must continue to work collaboratively to navigate the complexities of renewable energy deployment, striving to achieve a sustainable future while safeguarding the rights and welfare of all stakeholders. Only through such collaborative efforts can we effectively harness the potential of wind power while respecting the rights and concerns of local communities.