In a less complicated world, wind energy would be a no-brainer. Windmills making endless electricity out of nothing, out of air. No pollution, less dependence on foreign oil. And those against wind power would clearly just be shills for big energy or selfish complainers engaging in NIMBY (Not In My Backyard)-ism.
But unfortunately, solutions are never that easy.
Just ask Laura Israel, director of the documentary “Windfall,” which screens at 6 tonight at Skowhegan Free Library, at 2 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Strand Theater in Rockland, and at 7 p.m. Wednesday at UMaine Farmington.
A portrait of the rural town of Meredith, N.Y., and the contentious (some would say destructive) effects of the wind turbines installed there, “Windfall” is opening eyes and causing controversy. I spoke to Israel about her film, Meredith (where she owns a small home), and what the ongoing wind power debate means to Mainers mulling its future in their state.
“Windfall” examines claims of what’s dubbed “wind turbine syndrome,” a collection of symptoms ranging from dizziness to sleep problems to depression, which some claim are caused by low-frequency turbine noise and other effects, a malady with little medical documentation. Is it real?
The problem is there aren’t a lot of studies yet, and so there’s a lot of name-calling, people thinking they’re making it up. I have to say, people don’t leave their homes without compensation without there being a reason. It’s heartbreaking. To me, that means we should stop everything and start testing.
The fast-tracking of the wind farm in Meredith is one of your major points in “Windfall,” right?
To me, that’s the biggest issue, which we spend most time on in the film. I, like a lot of people, wanted one in the beginning. But it eventually tore Meredith apart.
There wasn’t a lot of information apart from the initial, shiny pamphlets. It was an international corporation with great salespeople, but that company had sold all its contracts by the time “Windfall” was finished, and when the company’s gone, there isn’t this chain of responsibility. We’d all like to think that a wind company is solely interested in the environment, but like all companies, they’re profit-driven.
Several reviews have taken “Windfall” to task for not having company representatives make their case on-screen.
I decided, well, if they’re not going to come to the towns to answer the questions, then why should I go to them for their P.R.? I thought the people in the town deserved to be heard. So it was a conscious choice – I decided the film was from the point of view of the town. We do show footage of their promo videos, because that’s the information the town had access to. Even now, wind companies hire people to hand out leaflets at screenings of the film, but they won’t come to the Q&As.
So are you anti-wind power?
Saying I’m pro- or anti- really cuts off the discussion. “Windfall” is really about how to move forward in a way that makes sense to the towns that are doing this. I’m not really an activist; I hope the film inspires people to get involved get educated. Conservation and efficiency should be priority one. The industry has people thinking these are benign structures, but I feel there’s not enough critical discussion about the fact that there’s a lot more infrastructure involved than people realize.
You want to put turbines in all these protected areas, you have to enlarge roads, blast mountains, cut down trees. That’s in addition to the effect on birds and other wildlife. With the film, I could throw out some things for people to talk about. People are passionate about being part of the answer. I think we should all sit down and talk about it in a realistic manner without calling each other names.
Dennis Perkins is a local freelance writer.