Roger Ebert reviews “Windfall”

By Roger Ebert, www.rogerebert.com
Driving from Los Angeles to Palm Springs, you pass through a desert terrain in which a new species has taken hold. Wind turbines grow row upon row, their blades turning busily as they generate electricity and pump it into the veins of the national grid. 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 recused 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. The owner of a lovely restored 19th century farmhouse asks — who will buy it now? People don’t come to the Catskills to undergo nonstop mental torture. 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?

6 thoughts on “Roger Ebert reviews “Windfall”

  1. Too bad it takes a celebrity or a well known public figure to state the obvious whereas being a “lowly unwashed and unclean Citizen of the Land” means nothing any more!!!
    Has this world gone to hell in a hand basket?

  2. Director Laura Israel’s film ‘Windfall’ is set in the East Coast. These problems also exist in the West Coast with wind turbines. Mr. Ebert, since you mentioned having seen all the wind turbines in Palm Springs and assumed that it was a good thing, I invite you to visit my website:
    http://web.me.com/thrnotgreen/thrnotgreen to see episodes of the Documentary ‘They’re Not Green’. My film examines the environmental effects of wind power, including its limited impact upon reducing CO2 emissions, its potentially negative health implications and its contributions to soil erosion due to the degradation and destruction of surrounding vegetation. It also explains the difference between wind energy, capacity and generation, revealing the startling variance between what’s promised and what’s actually delivered. Thank you for writing about this important issue. Nettie Peña/Director ‘They’re Not Green’

  3. It’s sad to say but some people just never get it. When that lucrative contract is waved in front of them they become blind to all else. Some of the farmers here that signed leases to host turbines went to meetings and personally heard a victim speak of her plight { health issues and not being able to sleep in her brand new home } but they still signed the contracts .

  4. I JUST WATCHED THE MOVIE LAST WEEK AND WAS SURPRISED AT THE FACT IT WAS LIKE LOOKING IN A MIRROR TO WHAT OUR TOWNSHIP IS DEALING WITH. THE ONLY DIFFERENCE IS THAT WE LIKE THE TOWN FOLK ON THE MOVIE, WE DON’T GET ANY SAY AT ALL. OUR MOUTHS ARE TAPED AND NO ONE IS LISTENING TO STOP THIS INSANITY NAMED GREEN ENERGY!

    WE WILL HAVE HUNDREDS AROUND OUR NECK OF THE WOODS WHERE I CALL HOME IN A TOWNSHIP JUST OVER 3000 PEOPLE. I DIDN’T SIGN UP TO BE THE BIG CITIES GUINEA PIG. I DON’T WANT MY HOME LAND TURNING INTO AN INDUSTRIAL SITE.

    THE LIES TOLD AND CHANGES THEY HAVE MADE ARE UDDER MADNESS. WE WERE ONLY TO HAVE 10 110′ TURBINES (AROUND THE SIZE OF A REG. SILO) RUNNING ALONG OUR HIGHWAY AT THE BACK OF PROPERTIES NOT NEAR ANY HOMES.AS THE PICTURES WERE SHOWN TO THE FARMERS, BUT ONCE APPROVED AND THE FOOT IN THE DOOR IT HAS WENT TO 510′ HIGH TURBINES (50 STORIES) THAT’S MORE LIKE 9 OR MORE SILOS HIGH AND NOT 10, BUT PUSHING 200 (FOR THEIR FIRST PHASE) AND OH YES, IN AND AROUND THE HOMES AND SCHOOLS INSTEAD OF OUT IN THE MIDDLE OF NO WHERE!

    NO ONE SIGNED UP FOR THIS, NO ONE HAD ANY IDEAS OF WHAT WAS COMING AND HOW FAST THEY WOULD COME. THE WIND COMPANIES ARE STEALING ACRES OF NON PARTICIPANT LANDS AND DON’T HAVE TO PAY THEM A CENT, THEY ARE BULLDOZING STRAIGHT THROUGH THE WILDLIFE AND FIELDS. ITS MORE LIKE AN INVASION WE HAVE NO CONTROL OVER, LIFE PLANS ARE RUINED, FAMILIES AND NEIGHBORS TORN. DALTON IS RUINING OUR RURAL ONTARIO AS WE KNOW IT AND WE WILL BE ALL PAYING FOR THIS FOR DECADES TO COME!

    WE NEED MORE MOVIES LIKE THIS IT OPENS YOUR EYES AND EARS AND CAN LEARN FROM WHAT OTHERS HAVE BEEN THROUGH. JUST PICTURE THE DOCUMENTARIES 20YRS FROM NOW AT THE HEALTH ISSUES OF THE PEOPLE, ECPESALLY IN THE CHILDREN, THE RUINING OF THE COUNTRYSIDE, THE DROP OF LIVESTOCK QUALITY AND PRODUCTION, THE HUGE IMPACT ON THE WILD LIFE NUMBERS WILL SHOCKING, NOT TO MENTION THE TON OF DEBT WE WILL BE HAVING TO DISH OUT. WE WILL SURELY HAVE MUCH TO TALK ABOUT THEN.

    TO BAD OUR HORRIBLY PREMIER IS SO BLIND TO LEARN NOW.

  5. We too have also watched the movie Windfall and could not believe what had gone on in Meredith N.Y. It was as if they were talking about our community of (3000) Adelaide Village located in Southwestern Ontario.. It was like looking in the mirror just change the names of the residents and the names of the Wind turbines developers and it is Exactly what we are RIGHT NOW experencing. I find the whole thing overwhelming that this coulld be happening in the first place in the name of Green Energy . This is NOT GREEN ! This is a Down RIGHT
    Travesty !!!!! At the expense of its residents, livestock, productive farmlands and wild life and it is OUR GOVERNMENT that has initiated this !!!! We can only hope that they will realize the harm this will do and reconcider their whole position on the issue of all wind turbines…

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