‘Windfall’: A Civil War Film (Roger Ebert et al. reviews spell trouble for Industrial Wind; DC Environmentalism)
“‘Windfall’ left me disheartened. I thought wind energy was something I could believe in. This film suggests it’s just another corporate flim-flam game. Of course, the documentary could be mistaken, and there are no doubt platoons of lawyers, lobbyists and publicists to say so. How many of them live on wind farms?”
- Roger Ebert (February 1, 2012)
Three major reviews on WINDFALL–a 1 hour 22 minute exposé that I previously reviewed at MasterResource–is another important development in the growing grassroots pushback against industrial wind parks. As such, it is a welcome advance from the photo-shopped image of wind as a benign, costless form of modern energy.
Here are excepts from each of three reviews of national import.
Here is Robert Ebert’s review of Windfall (February 1, 2012).
Driving from Los Angeles to Palm Springs, you pass through a desert terrain in which a new species has taken hold…. This wind farm is a good thing, yes? I’ve always assumed so, and driven on without much thought.
A documentary named “Windfall” has taken the wind out of my sails. Assuming it can be trusted (and many of its claims seem self-evident), wind turbines are a blight upon the land and yet another device by which energy corporations and Wall Street, led by the always reliable Goldman Sachs, are picking the pockets of those who can least afford it. There is even some question whether wind energy uses more power than it generates.
Director Laura Israel’s film is set almost entirely in Meredith, N.Y., a farming area of some 2,000 people in a beautiful Catskills landscape. A few dairy and beef farms still survive, but many of the residents are now retired people who have come here with their dreams. Most of them were once “of course” in favor of wind power, which offered the hope of clean, cheap energy. When an Irish corporation named Airtricity came around offering land owners $5,000, neighbors $500 apiece and the town a 2 percent cut of the revenue, that was a win-win, right?
So it appeared. But some residents, including a former editor for an encyclopedia and the final photo editor of Life magazine, began doing some research. The town board set up an energy advisory panel, and after a year of study, it recommended the town refuse the Airtricity offer. The town board rejected the panel’s finding. One of them reclused himself because of his personal holdings in energy. The others saw no conflict.
This generated a furor in Meredith, and we meet people who were best friends for years and now were no longer on speaking terms. We watch board meetings and meet lots of locals; the film bypasses the usual expert talking heads and relies on the personal experiences of these individuals.
I learned that wind turbines are unimaginably larger than I thought. It’s not a matter of having a cute little windmill in your backyard. A turbine is 400 feet tall, weighs 600,000 pounds, and is rooted in tons and tons of poured concrete. If one is nearby (and given the necessary density, one is always nearby), it generates a relentless low-frequency thrum-thrum-thrum that seems to emanate from the very walls of your home. The dark revolving shadows of its blades are cast for miles, and cause a rhythmic light-and-shade pulsing inside and outside your house. Living in an area with all that going, many people have developed headaches, nausea, depression and hypertension.
The effect on property values is devastating…. Nor do other living things like wind turbines. Their blades, revolving at 150 miles an hour, slice birds into pieces and create low-pressure areas that cause the lungs of bats to explode.
For the loss of its peace of mind, a community’s cut of the profits may be enough to pay for a pickup truck. Tax revenue drops because many of those (who can afford to) flee. Turbines sometimes topple over or catch fire (all firemen can do is stand and watch). And of course the local taxing agencies have been required to take advantage of sweetheart state and federal tax cuts, promoted by the industry’s lobbyists.
“Windfall” left me disheartened. I thought wind energy was something I could believe in. This film suggests it’s just another corporate flim-flam game. Of course, the documentary could be mistaken, and there are no doubt platoons of lawyers, lobbyists and publicists to say so. How many of them live on wind farms?
Andy Webster wrote in his New York Times review of Windfall, Turbines in the Backyard: The Sound and the Strobes (February 2, 2012):
We can all agree that energy independence is a worthy objective, right? Alternative energy sources like solar power can help free the United States from fossil fuels and the grip of unstable Persian Gulf states. And wind power — wait, not so fast, says “Windfall,” Laura Israel’s urgent, informative and artfully assembled documentary.
An account of rural Meredith, in upstate New York, when wind turbines came to town, the film depicts the perils of a booming industry and the bitter rancor it sowed among a citizenry.
In 2004 residents of this once-flourishing dairy center were approached by companies offering to pay a nominal fee to erect turbines on their property while insisting on confidentiality agreements (to keep competitors ignorant of costs). Economically beset, some people, like Ron and Sue Bailey, jumped at first. But others, like Keitha Capouya, now the town supervisor, dug into the research and sounded an alarm.
Turbines are huge: some are 40 stories tall, with 130-foot blades weighing seven tons and spinning at 150 miles an hour. They can fall over or send parts flying; struck by lightning, say, they can catch fire. Their 24/7 rotation emits nerve-racking low frequencies (like a pulsing disco) amplified by rain and moisture, and can generate a disorienting strobe effect in sunlight. Giant flickering shadows can tarnish a sunset’s glow on a landscape.
People in Lowville, N.Y., farther north, express despair on camera at having caved to the wind companies’ entreaties; Bovina, N.Y., banned turbines entirely. Meredith is riven by the issue, which pits the Planning Board against the Town Board and neighbor against neighbor. Former city dwellers escaping urban anxieties are surprised to see themselves as activists. Concerns like setback (the distance of turbines from a property line) are debated….
But the film’s implications are clear: The quest for energy independence comes with caveats. Developers’ motives must be weighed, as should the risks Americans are willing to take in their own backyard. Despite BP’s three-month blanketing of Gulf of Mexico beaches in crude oil; the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan; and the possible impact of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on the water table, energy companies remain eager to plunder nature’s bounty in pursuit of profit.
Andrew O’Hehir in Salon takes a second look at industrial wind.
In telling the story of a small-town political fight over wind power, Laura Israel’s fascinating documentary “Windfall” at first seems like another entry in the long laundry list of post-”Inconvenient Truth” doomsayer environmental films.
Indeed, “Windfall” has some of the rural, homespun feeling of Josh Fox’s Oscar-nominated “Gasland” which helped ignite a national debate over the natural-gas extraction method known as fracking. Israel’s film also offers a direct riposte to Bill Haney’s “The Last Mountain,” in which Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is seen promoting wind power as a clean alternative to the dirty and destructive combination of mountaintop-removal coal mining and coal-generated electricity.
Viewed through a long lens, “Windfall” is about much more than the hidden costs and unexpected side effects of wind-power generation, or about a citizens’ uprising in the tiny town of Meredith, N.Y., in the Catskill region 150 or so miles northwest of Manhattan. (Mind you, both are gripping stories.) It’s about the American tendency — and very likely the human tendency — to look for magic-bullet solutions to complicated social and economic problems, where none are available….
… people in Meredith and numerous other communities in the wind-friendly rural Northeast and Great Lakes region have discovered, living anywhere near those gargantuan wind-harnessing engines is quite a different matter. These days, the typical industrial wind turbine is around 400 feet high — the height of a 40-story building, or twice the length of a jumbo jet. The blades alone can weigh upward of 35 tons, and the entire assembly anywhere from 150 to 400 tons (resting on a platform of concrete and rebar, which itself may be 30 feet deep and weigh several hundred tons).
It’s an enormous construction site, culminating in a high-voltage electrical device, that emits a 24/7 whoppa-whoppa-whoppa noise and incessant low-frequency vibration, and is topped with a brilliant flashing light. By daylight, there’s the nightmarish strobe effect — the vast rotating shadow that falls across an entire neighborhood when the turbine is between you and the sun. (While the question of whether it’s actually unhealthful to live near a turbine is unresolved, it’s definitely unpleasant.) If your neighbor put one up in her backyard without asking permission, how would you feel? ….
People on both sides of the issue in Meredith assumed at first that the anti-turbine forces were an elitist minority, partly because the town board had always been dominated by the same landowning families, and partly because wind-power companies had signed people up to secret agreements that forbade them from discussing anything about the relationship.
What ensued was a fascinating lesson in democracy (and a version of the same lesson the Tea Party and its supporters may learn later this year). After 826 people — more than half of Meredith’s total population — signed a petition opposing the town board’s pro-development policy on wind turbines, it turned out that the people who thought of themselves as the “real” residents were in the minority, and the jig was up for the wind industry in this one tiny corner of America.
Yet as one newly elected board member reflects at the end of the film, nobody came out of this fight feeling good. A formerly harmonious community is now bitterly divided, and the Mitt Romney-style venture capitalists of wind power will just move on to the next town and sell their pseudo-green poisoned chalice to somebody else.
The heavy environmental footprint of industrial wind is now entering the mainstream. There will be pushback from the American Wind Energy Association and Big Wind as a result of Windfall. But the debate is now joined.