I attended a screening of the movie “Windfall” at the Bell Museum, where it was being shown as part of the Sustainability Film Series. The director was there to answer questions. Someone was standing outside handing out flyers pointing out the misinformation in the film. I hadn’t expected controversy to be part of the sustainability film series, but I can see why it was.
The film is a positive depiction of a community that turned down wind turbines. It’s about the problems with wind turbines and the destructive business practices of the companies that operate wind turbines. I left with mixed feelings; more confused than enlightened.
If the handout “Truths about Wind Energy” really are true, then the movie was deceptive in its depiction of wind turbines. They filmed flickering light in people’s homes but the handout says that occurs for less than 100 minutes a year. People in the audience were confused about how many wind turbines there were in the town – there were none, so the rows of turbines being shown in the film don’t exist (not in that location, anyway).
I also found it confusing to see a lot of people complaining about having a turbine by their home while the film then shows pictures of acre after acre of undeveloped farmland without a building in site. While the director feels this is not a NIMBY situation (not in my back yard), that’s exactly what it sounded like.
The residents who were interviewed didn’t seem to understand the critical situation our country is facing with regards to energy, the immediacy of the problem, or the economics of energy production and transport. (One person suggested that investors and the government give the town $3 million and they would get off the grid. How would this help?)
The townspeople did do research on possible health effects. I don’t think those were very clearly communicated in the film. PBS News Hour looked into it.
The townspeople said over and over that they weren’t opposed to wind energy, just to these massive turbines. They wanted something more human-scaled. That’s an interesting observation. The film didn’t explore whether other configurations were possible. Could shorter towers work as well or is there more wind at higher elevations? I’d like to learn more.
Just recently I learned about Helix wind turbines – a smaller-scale alternative that can even be used in an urban setting.
If the film is correct, it really calls into question the tactics of the wind energy companies. While the Wind Energy Association says that wind farm sites are chosen with public input, the situation in this town seemed to be that reps from the company went door to door drumming up interest and if a land owner wanted to learn more, he or she had to sign a non-disclosure agreement. They couldn’t talk to their neighbors about what they are doing, where the turbine might be sited, how many they may have on their land, or how much money they may make.
This pitted neighbors against neighbors and allowed people to call the good intentions of their neighbors into question. It was heart-wrenching to see neighbors who had lived side by side for 30 or 40 years, now not speaking to each other. They wanted to do something good for their country and now they are pariahs in their community.
This community organized to defeat the energy project but it doesn’t feel like a success to me. How can communities take a lead in bringing about successful wind energy projects? How can they get a seat at the table when it comes to decision making? How can they get projects of an appropriate scale?