Green, for lack of a better word, is good. Green works… right?
Wherever we look we’re told that green energy is the future, our atonement for past sins against the climate. We have hope that we can build an economy out of energy sources like solar, wind and run-of-river energy, confident that we can do it without doing serious harm to the environment.
These sources may produce few emissions, but what’s often overlooked is the impacts they’ll have on the people that have to live with them. That’s precisely the subject of Windfall, a documentary screening as part of the Ecologies of Mind program at the 2010 Vancouver International Film Festival.
Director Laura Israel insists she’s an environmentalist. A filmmaker and editor for photographer Robert Frank, she believes in clean energy and is excited at the prospect of solar panels being installed atop her apartment building in New York City.
She also owns a log cabin in Meredith, New York, a remote agricultural community where she has to take a dirt road just to get to her place.
“There’s no TV, nothing to do but read and look at stars,” Israel says in an interview.
One day she read the local paper and saw little mentions of “wind turbines” and “wind energy” in its op-ed section. Airtricity, an alternative energy company based out of Ireland, was looking to install wind turbines in the countryside, a massive project that could help generate profits for a community whose agricultural profits were lagging.
Airtricity looked at installing 40,400-foot turbines in Meredith and locate them close to people’s homes so that they wouldn’t have to build miles of transmission lines to get the electricity to market.
Many in Meredith were initially on board with the project, but they soon found that there were few regulations to mitigate their impact on the people that lived there.
“There’s no federal regulations as far as siting these,” Israel says. “The town had to had to research all of this, what do they have to write as far as zoning goes and what are the things about wind turbines they might have to write into their zoning that would protect something that could happen to them.
“What they found out you find out in the film, which is a lot of things that people don’t think about when you think about a wind turbine.”
Once installed, the turbines impose themselves on the town like unwelcome guests at a dinner party. They emit a low-frequency sound, turning all day and night, producing noises akin to a passing car with a deep bass on its stereo system. Subjects in the film describe it variously as a “jet that never lands” or “sneakers in the dryer at night.”
The film will perhaps strike a chord with North Shore residents who themselves live in the shadow of a wind turbine that stands atop Grouse Mountain. Visible on clear days, the 65-metre turbine is expected to satisfy 25 per cent of the resort’s power needs.
It was constructed last February but only got approval to start generating power in late September, delayed by BC Hydro because the power authority didn’t feel the turbine met safety requirements.
It might also appeal to residents of Squamish, about 35 kilometres south of Whistler. In 2006 the community grappled with a run-of-river project to be located on the Ashlu River.
The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District rejected it, citing community opposition. The provincial government later passed Bill 30, an amendment to the Utilities Commission Act that removed the ability of local governments to give approval to public utilities being located within their boundaries.
The cost, it seems, of developing green energy is the inconvenience it can impose on small communities like Meredith and Squamish.
Israel says Windfall isn’t a condemnation of green energy, or even wind energy altogether. It merely implores its audiences to ask questions.
“I think fast-tracking any industrial project should really have some oversight and people should really think twice about it,” she says. “You’ll see it’s a film about a town, from a town’s point of view. A corporation wants to come in and do what they want to do, so there’s corporate responsibility here.
“That’s part of it, people deciding their own future and not handing it over to corporations for them.”