An offshore wind-farm erected over 11 kilometers from a complainant's place of residence would represent no clear violation of that resident's rights, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday, upholding administrative court and circuit court rulings to the same effect and throwing out an appeal from a local councilor on the island of Saaremaa.
The ruling issued Tuesday related to an appeal over the state maritime area plan, approved by the government, which will give the go-ahead to the construction of wind farms in the Gulf of Riga, and elsewhere off Estonia's lengthy coastline.
The complainant was Mihkel Undrest (Center), a councilor at Saaremaa Rural Municipality.
The Tartu-based Supreme Court panel agreed on Tuesday not to review the appeal, though for somewhat different reasons than those cited by the lower-tier courts
Namely, the court found that, in principle, it is possible for landowners, environmental associations and, for instance, local residents to challenge national plans, since they set a definite framework for the country's future choices, whereas it can prove very difficult for would-be applicants to stand up for their rights later on.
The state has set the goal and taken on the obligation of promoting the use of renewable energy, the Supreme Court added and, since the development of wind energy can only take place in the marine areas specified in the plan, the establishment of wind farms there is now a priority in relation to other interests.
Moreover, only those whose rights are directly harmed by the plan can file a complaint with a court.
The Supreme Court found that in the current case, it is not viable to speak of a violation of the applicant's rights, since the nearest development area is more than 11km away from his place of residence.
Supreme Court precedent has it that local residents have had the right to complain in the case of land-based wind turbines which are within a kilometer of the place of residence.
The court stressed that if, in the course of studies prior to the construction of wind farms, a negative environmental impact relating to the applicant should suddenly materialize, he or she can contest, for example, the granting of a building or construction permit.
Inter alia, the government has considered the evaluation and mitigation of the visual impact of wind farms as important in the planning process, and this also serves to protect the interests of people living in seafront properties, for instance.
If this condition is not sufficiently taken into account when implementing the plan, those complainants can go to court.
The areas suitable for the development of wind energy in Estonia's sea and coastal areas were outlined by the government in spring of last year.
Mihkel Undrest is a landowner on the Sõrve peninsula, the southernmost tip of the island of Saaremaa, but, as noted, at least 11km from the nearest area adjudged to be suitable for a wind farm location.
Undrest said the impact of wind farms on his living environment and property and its value had not been sufficiently studied.
Among other things, he was concerned about noise pollution associated with the wind turbines, as well as their impact on the sea view.
The administrative and circuit courts had rejected the Undrest's appeal on the grounds of the plan so far being very general in nature, and not yet determining the specific location of any wind farms.
To that extent, according to those courts, the plan could not have violated the applicant's rights.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Aleksander Krjukov