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Blowing Away the Windmill Lies

The residents of rural Meredith, New York, are worried about global warming, dependence on foreign oil, and fossil-fuel pollution. So when a windmill company came to town and started offering cash-strapped residents checks in exchange for installing on their land wind turbines that would feed clean, renewable energy into the grid, the people were more than willing to listen. “We were helping the world,” says one resident.  But when the townsfolk of this economically dozy area started to do a little research into this poster child for the new economy, they became worried, then horrified. The new documentary Windfall is about what they learned.

Windfall is that rare documentary that casts a skeptical gaze on claims made by the left, though in this case the environmental lobby’s interests line up neatly with those of the Wall Street investment banks that bankroll this supposed miracle cure to our alleged greenhouse-gas problem.

It turns out that the wind turbines are 400 feet tall -- the height of a good-sized Manhattan skyscraper placed incongruously in the sprawling countryside. A single blade weighs seven tons. The diameter of the cement base of the windmills can be 250 feet. Once erected, they spoil the natural beauty of the nearby mountains, they cast giant shadows, they throw off dangerous quantities of ice. People living under them complain of health problems, difficulty sleeping, and strange pressure in their ears, and the low, intense thudding noises of the turbines are compared to the effect of living next door to a disco that never closes, or being under a plane that never lands. Another citizen says that living near a windmill is like having “your vacuum cleaner running beside your bed all night.”

Oops. It would appear that there is more to clean and renewable energy production than we have been led to believe. Moreover, due to the intermittent nature of wind energy, nearby fossil-fuel power plants still have to be kept running in order to cover for the down times. Any overall reduction in carbon emissions is minimal. Moreover, the windmills often require trees to be cut down and roads to be cut into pristine countryside. Birds and other animals fall prey to the massive blades, and such is the pressure created that bat lungs explode. A bat expert quoted in the documentary speculates that massive deployment of windmills could put bats at risk of extinction. The more you look into windmills, then, the more they seem like the 21st century’s ethanol -- a huckster cure that does little about the disease or maybe makes it worse.

So why are these windmills being built in the first place? As is often the case when something bizarre and senseless catches on, there is a one-word answer. Government provides huge subsidies to wind production, and it’s not much of a surprise when Windfall looks at a list of investors in the monstrosities and names like “Morgan Stanley” and “Goldman Sachs” pop up. Apparently depreciation schemes encourage the wind farms to be sold and re-sold and re-re-sold to generate tax advantages -- a blizzard of paperwork that snows over the original green purpose. Absurdly, the state of New York announced in 2004 a goal that 25 percent of its energy would come from renewable resources by 2013. Many other states have passed similarly cockamamie mandates, as if reordering the energy economy happens by wishing it so. With subsidies sloshing around the budgetary trough -- even in an age of so-called “austerity”-- large industrial firms such as GE and Wall Street banks are only too eager to  come running and lap up the excess like purring kittens.

The average American has simply been duped by the false promises of renewable energy, and until now the green lobby and its deep pocketed cronies in big business have largely managed to keep the flaws of newfangled fuels under wraps. But Windfall makes it clear that large-scale industrial wind turbines are simply inappropriate for populated areas, and given the costs of transmitting energy over long distances there are questions about their feasibility even in open spaces. Now that the mid-2000s scare about global warming has been exposed as mostly hype, it’s time to start removing the government life-support system from renewable energy so the sector can thrive or fail on its own merits. Windfall, which has been praised by the New York Times (“urgent, artfully assembled”), the Huffington Post (“profound”) and other liberal media outlets, is a vital and bracing blast of truth.