Editorial: Windfall—wake-up film on wind

By Frank Schier
Editor & Publisher

Winnebago and Boone counties must fight against industrializing our rural areas with gigantic wind turbines in sprawling chains of damage to the psychological viewscape,  to animal and human behavior and health, and to the legal rights of our communities.

Gamesa Energy USA, then Navitas, drove a wind ordinance through the Winnebago County Board two years ago, proposing to erect more than 400 wind turbines in parts of Stephenson, Ogle and Winnebago counties.

A lawsuit by Patricia Muscarello filed in Rockford’s federal court stopped them until it was recently dismissed. It could be appealed. Now, Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen (R) still wants to proceed. I have a lunch booked with him next week.

As reported in our May 25 issue, he said, “The case was dismissed. Nobody has filed for permits; and we still have work to do.”

Christiansen is unsure when the board will formally mull the project. Ordinances will be revisited before board members will vote on the plan.

“We still have to clean up the ordinances,” Christiansen said. “That means we will probably have to go back through that process.”

About five years ago, Boone County passed a wind ordinance, and the wind complex provider, Mainstream Renewable (or GSC 5 LLC, whoever that Delaware corporation really is), is actively seeking leases in Leroy and Manchester townships. By the end of the year or early next spring, the company says it will ask for a special use permit to begin constructing these towering giants that may go up to 500 feet. That’s 50 stories or taller than the Statue of Liberty!

I plan to tell Chairman Christiansen and everybody else I can about the “processes” I saw in the documentary, Windfall: a film by Laura Israel, May 26 at the North Boone High School gym. The film cost $500 to rent, and was presented by Concerned Citizens of Boone County NFP. These are serious folks, and about 200 people from both sides of the issue came to watch the documentary, which has won the following awards: Official selection: Toronto International Film Festival, Woodstock Film Festival, IDFA-Green Screen Competition and Vancouver International Film Festival. Winner Grand Prize: DOC NYC. The film examines the pros and cons of turbine installation around  the small town of Meredith in upstate New York.

The processes I was referring to were how these proposed wind farms proceeded to ruin political careers and make new ones, set neighbor against neighbor, and make people realize the value of rural peace and quiet and steady sunshine, interrupted only by slow-moving clouds.

Those slow-moving clouds cast some shadows as they pass between the sun and the landscape, the viewscape.

What Windfall showed was flashing, 7-ton, 150-foot blades, driven by turbines the size of school buses that use 55-gallon drums of oil on towers that make the spinning shadowmaker  a 400-foot-tall inverse strobe light. One shot showed a living room and hallway with a wind turbine that could be seen out of the windows across the road with the sun behind the rotating blades. The room and hallway flashed before the camera lens, dark, light, dark, light, dark, light, dark, light, dark, light, dark, light, dark, light in the middle of the day. It was freakish and made me think, “God, anyone would go crazy with that day after day. Interrogators in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo used strobe lights to break down prisoners by having the strobes and heavy metal music flash and blare into the cells for days.”

The film showed interviews with regular folks like those out on Seward Road or Pecatonica Road or Fish Hatchery Road.   The film folks said the subsonic sound of the whirring blades made it so they couldn’t sleep in their bedrooms—they had to go to the basement to escape it and get some sleep.

Animals were skittish; dogs barked and ran around incessantly; kids with ADD really acted out; adults’ hearts beat irregularly.

Bats’ lungs exploded. Yes, bats’ lungs exploded. The vacuum created by the swift turning of the blades pops their lungs or blood vessels, and their radar seems to be irresistibly attracted to the whirling. Bats eat mosquitoes and other bugs. A disease question whooshes here. An increased use of pesticides question whooshes here. A question of possible extinction of species whooshes here if more and more of these large-scale wind complexes are constructed.

The film pointed out non-disclosure clauses were in the leases farmers had to sign. That meant if the farmers had a problem with the company or the turbines or their health, they could not discuss it.

Even if they want to discuss it with the company, it may not be the same company. Most of the leases provided that the lease could be sold without the consent of the farmer. Yes, the leases could be, and some have been, sold to Chinese firms.

Of particular concern were the set backs, or how far away a turbine tower had to be from power lines, outbuildings, homes, or property lines of neighbors who may or may not want them there. Windfall asserts a setback of as much as 1 mile may not be enough.

In the future, we’ll talk more about Windfall and books about industrial wind facilities, ownership questions of wind companies, turbine setback requirements in the Winnebago and Boone County wind ordinances and the real impact on humans and the environment, the energy grid and real economics.

I must say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you” to filmmaker Laura Israel and the Concerned Citizens of Boone County NFP. This documentary is a “must see,” and it is so refreshing to see people really do something to protect our environment, instead of just talking about it. These concerned citizens put their $500 where their mouths are and carried out a fine event with class, which even included a question and answer session with the filmmaker via Skype. More to come…

From the June 15-21, 2011, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!