Thoughts About the Movie “Windfall”

20 08 2012

I saw this movie listed under “documentaries” on Netflix and had a creeping feeling that it was going to be a hatchet job on the relatively young wind power industry, but as I cannot claim any great degree of knowledge about the wind power industry or the turbines themselves I decided to give this movie a fair hearing.

Spoilers follow.

Here’s the deal: I’m an on-site apartment manager. This means I not only work in the office – and around the property all day – but live on the property as well. I know for a fact that at least three residents hate one or more of the following: Their apartment, the building(s), the owners, me, my guts, apartment living in general, and on and on. And it of course thrills me when say, those three people take to the internet and write poison-pill reviews about the apartments that I manage.

Word does get out if you’re running a slum, but word thankfully also gets out if you’re doing your level best to provide a clean, quiet, and comfortable living environment for everyone on the property. When I first took the job, word around town (not just the complex) was that our apartments were no good, the people living there were no good, the management was no good, and the owners were no good. Over the ensuing months, I was heartened to see the tide noticeably shift in our favor. That took lots of work, and still does to maintain and improve our standing in the market.

Now: Imagine that someone made a documentary called “SlumTown” and took the position that not just these, but all of the apartments in Kenosha were “slums”. If you didn’t live in Kenosha, or were plain unfamiliar with it this movie might be your first and only exposure to the city. If the documentary producers selected my three unsatisfied customers, and the probable three that exist in all of the other complexes, you’d be presented with a compelling argument that x amount of Kenosha is living in deplorable living conditions and it’s probably best to check out, say, Racine.

(Special thanks to the Racine Chamber of Commerce for their invaluable assistance with the making of this documentary.)

Well, that’s essentially the movie you’re getting with Windfall.

The Good:

The movie does do a good job of providing an overview of how wind turbines are constructed and sited.

The Bad:

This movie is really more about small-town politics than the eeeeevil wind power industry. I did find it telling that nobody from WindCo (generic term) appeared on camera at any time (did I blink?) much unlike GasCo people in GasLand. It’s a stretch, but apparently T. Boone Pickens is meant to serve as the WindCo spokesperson, which is like Saddam Hussein being the spokesperson for the Kurds.

The Ugly:

It was not lost on me that Tug Hill, NY apparently has three residents. Because that’s all you’re going to see and hear from concerning the state of their wind farm activities, and it’s unanimous: 100% of the three people who agreed to appear on camera hate the wind turbines.

My $0.02:

I’m obviously not a fan of the movie, but not because I am staunchly pro-wind or anti-truth. More than once, I wanted to give a sense-inspiring smack to the head to many of the people who put in face time on the movie to note that apparently coal, nuclear, and natural gas power is okay because frankly, they can’t see it. All they know is, you plug things into the outlets and power happens.

Along comes the prospect of wind turbines – which again I would invite a viewing of GasLand for contrast, as the “fracking” crowd is frankly far more ruthless than Big Wind – and there is, I’m sorry, a NIMBY attitude that surfaces relatively quickly throughout the town. I rolled my eyes a few times at the assurances that the opponents of the turbines were “for ‘green’ energy” but against the turbines because, well they’re so huge. And they make noises!

Son, go to Texas.

Ma’am, go to Wyoming.

In fact, go to Wyoming. Know what they have there, 24/7/365? Oil pumps. Yup, all day long, they rock back and forth. And do you know what else? They squeak. That’s right, repetitive motion and annoying squeaking. And for what? Oil. Feh. All of that oil rigging ain’t worth a hill of beans when it blocks my view of eastern Wyoming.

And Texas: They not only have oil infrastructure there (including the Keystone XL pipeline, that poses its own environmental, if not NIMBY concerns) but they “frack” for natural gas there. You can light tap water on fire, I’ve seen it.

Ah, but Texas and Wyoming aren’t important like rural New York state.

So the message, correct me if I’m wrong, is that coal is okay, nuclear power is fantastic (I’m calling this out because the movie sneaks a graph in with these three items on it as counterpoint to wind), and, this is a quote, “natural gas is cleanest”. But wind turbines will literally kill you. I mean kill birds. I mean kill bats. I mean they’re unsightly and it’s “only” capable of generating 20% of the nation’s energy.

(Special thanks to the coal, nuclear, and natural gas industries for their invaluable assistance with the making of this documentary.)

Ultimately, and I’ll harp on this forever, any energy source, be it wind, solar, nuclear, coal, kids on swing sets, or anything you can dream up next is fraught with risks, if not problems, when serving it up through a distributed model. What if (and this is teased but never fully explored in the movie) the town of Meredith NY had a single wind turbine powering the town? Would that be worse or better than a wind farm feeding “the grid”?

Now: What if each home (not business, let’s start small) was powered by a windmill that didn’t tower over the countryside? Worse or better than a single towering turbine?

It’s not good enough to do a hatchet job on an – in this case – energy source that you (the filmmaker) or your backers (cough cough companies that don’t have an interest in “alternative” energy cough) don’t like. Offer alternatives. Show the pros and cons, truthfully.

I don’t think that’s an unreasonable request.

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