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‘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.

Roger Ebert

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.

16 comments

1 papertiger { 02.08.12 at 4:52 am }

Not so much a comment on the movie per say.
I Googled up “Windfall” and found the NPR review.
http://www.npr.org/2012/02/02/146099048/when-a-windfall-isnt-quite-what-it-seems
It says much the same as these other reviews, except perhaps in a more muted fashion. What I found interesting was the first response by the public to the article. It’s by Peter Kelley of the AWEA.

Peter writes:

Don’t fall for Windfall
By opting for sensationalism and slant over facts, this film unfairly treats wind power, a vibrant source of clean energy, U.S. jobs and local economic development.
Since wind farms produce no pollution, they have remarkable health advantages over other energy sources.
A definitive scientific analysis by academic experts for Massachusetts’ environmental and public health agencies found last month that wind turbines are safe and the health-related claims of project opponents are unsubstantiated.
Wind power drives U.S. manufacturing jobs and helps hold down consumers’ electric rates.
The facts tell a different story than this unbalanced film does: that wind energy is the least impactful form of energy production available to our society today, and its benefits far outweigh the negligible impacts. Read more at http://bit.ly/xg8Xl6

Peter Kelley
American Wind Energy Association

We have any background on Mr. Kelley and the AWEA?

2 Jon Boone { 02.08.12 at 10:07 am }

“… 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.”

Ain’t this the truth. It has been the modus operandi of this sleazy enterprise for at least the last decade, using stealth tactics. false promises, and the fact that in the regulatory world of energy, there’s no penalty for lying. Romney as governor of Massachusetts’s initially supported the Cape Wind project, then began to back off when he was assailed by the Kennedy’s, who of course didn’t want the damned thing near their ancestral homes. Romney then took a formal position welcoming it in the mountains of this state, for which many living in those mountains will never forgive him. This is indeed a Romney-styled operation, complete with using public dollars as venture capital for one of the dumbest modern energy ideas imaginable. Obama and Gingrich surely have learned from him.

Perhaps there are entrepreneurial filmmakers out there who will now step up to the next level and document how this corrupt industry is not just uncivil; for the central story is that it is also dysfunctional as an additive or alternative source of power, in the process costing everyone more.

3 Jon Boone { 02.08.12 at 11:39 am }

papertiger:

AWEA is the trade and lobbying arm of the wind industry in the US; it has counterparts in virtually every major industrial nation. It has a revolving door relationship with the National Renewable Energy Lab and many Executive Branch policy wonks. It’s primary goal is to make people believe that the pigs of this ancient technology can fly–by hook or by crook.

Kelly is a PR dude: http://www.awea.org/learnabout/aboutawea/aweastaff/public_affairs.cfm

4 Donna Laframboise { 02.08.12 at 12:12 pm }

Thanks for collecting these together!

5 MarkB { 02.08.12 at 1:54 pm }

Please note that RFK Jr. came out against Cape Wind in Nantucket sound. Not in my family’s summer back yard.

6 papertiger { 02.08.12 at 2:35 pm }

Ok, that was stupid. Your review in Washington.
Kelley is the goon handing out leaflets at every public showing. Or rather the handler of morons who hand out leaflets he provides. Was that just in DC?
If you ever wondered what the vice president of public affairs job entailed.

I’d be interested in seeing the rehashed press piece hashed again or maybe a link to the hash.

7 rbradley { 02.08.12 at 3:11 pm }

The trailer to the movie is here: http://windfallthemovie.com/index_1.html.

8 john { 02.08.12 at 6:01 pm }

AWEA used to have representatives of the small wind industry as leadership. Apparently they grew too big for their skivvy-britches. On that note it looks like Judicial Watch is suing the DOE regarding a Fisker FOIA.

http://thehill.com/blogs/e2-wire/e2-wire/209415-judicial-watch-sues-energy-dept-for-documents-related-to-529m-fisker-loan

This is getting better than the Super Bowl!

9 Lisa Linowes { 02.08.12 at 6:12 pm }

Thank you Master Resource for letting us share the reviews of Windfall. Regarding Cape Wind, the issue is not the views but the cost. The contracted price of the energy begins at 18.7 cents per kWh wholesale. Add 4% to be paid to National Grid as its incentive as well as a 3.5% annual escalator. By the end of the 20 year term the project will cost 30 cents/kWh and that’s wholesale! In addition, the State is permitting the utility to charge the energy cost to the distribution side of the electricity bill which means that large energy users who buy their power from competitive suppliers (MA is deregulated) are going to have to pay for Cape Wind. It’s called spreading the pain so residential ratepayers are not hit with the full cost. This high price gets us a variable energy source in a region where natural gas prices during peak periods last week were 3 cents/kwh. This is what happens when government policy forces ill-considered notions on markets.

10 Lisa Linowes { 02.08.12 at 7:19 pm }

“Was that just in DC?” AWEA parked people outside every screening of Windfall this weekend in New York. Throughout the past year, they’ve handed out their flyer at high-profile community screenings of Windfall — locations where proposed projects were particularly controversial.

11 The Real Anti-Energy Agenda: The NYT’s Joe Nocera Finds It OutInstitute for Energy Research | Institute for Energy Research { 02.10.12 at 4:58 pm }

[...] It is a sign of desperation that Keystone XL has become a cause célèbre for the critics of modern industrial society and requisite dense energy (oil, gas, and coal). One could only wish that the same effort was being directed against a much bigger problem: industrial wind turbines that both leave taxpayers poorer and pristine environs compromised. [...]

12 The Real Anti-Energy Agenda: The NYT’s Joe Nocera Finds It Out Jobs | Real-time Offshore Oil Rig Job Listing | Offshore Job Guide { 02.12.12 at 12:40 am }

[...] It is a sign of desperation that Keystone XL has become a cause célèbre for the critics of modern industrial society and requisite dense energy (oil, gas, and coal). One could only wish that the same effort was being directed against a much bigger problem: industrial wind turbines that both leave taxpayers poorer and pristine environs compromised. [...]

13 The Sierra Club’s Mentality Regarding the Keystone XL Pipeline and Tar Sands is Destructive and Futile | Are We Aware Yet? Political News Blog-Current News Political News Blog { 02.13.12 at 12:26 pm }

[...] It is a sign of desperation that Keystone XL has become a cause célèbre for the critics of modern industrial society and requisite dense energy (oil, gas, and coal). One could only wish that the same effort was being directed against a much bigger problem: industrial wind turbines that both leave taxpayers poorer and pristine environs compromised. [...]

14 The Sierra Club’s Mentality Regarding the Keystone XL Pipeline is Destructive and Futile | Are We Aware Yet? Political News Blog-Current News Political News Blog { 02.13.12 at 12:28 pm }

[...] It is a sign of desperation that Keystone XL has become a cause célèbre for the critics of modern industrial society and requisite dense energy (oil, gas, and coal). One could only wish that the same effort was being directed against a much bigger problem: industrial wind turbines that both leave taxpayers poorer and pristine environs compromised. [...]

15 Write a Heretical Essay, Win £8,500 « NoFrakkingConsensus { 03.05.12 at 5:55 pm }

[...] of wind power, last month the MasterResource blog collected together three mainstream media reviews of a documentary film titled Windfall. I haven’t seen the film [...]

16 Mike Barnard { 08.15.12 at 10:26 am }

Windfall’s only technical advisor was Lisa Linowes, a long-time anti-wind lobbyist.

http://checksandbalancesproject.org/2011/08/12/lisa-linowes-and-the-disinformation-of-industrial-wind-action-group/

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