Wind Energy Progress

Fact check: “Windfall” Film Offers Greatest Hits of Misinformation

Fact check: “Windfall” Film Offers Greatest Hits of Misinformation

Windfall takes aim at clean, renewable wind energy with misinformation.

As one movie critic said: “The documentary isn’t big on hard data; instead, [Director Laura] Israel allows the majority of her interviewees to deliver anecdotes, speculation, anti-corporate conspiracy theories, and just a few statistics…the movie’s case relies more on emotional appeals and frightening images of giant machines than on real, objective number-crunching…the unbridled scare tactics cast too big a shadow over the agit-prop doc Israel ended up making.” (Noel Murray, AV Club, Feb. 2, 2012)

The following facts set the record straight on the issues that Windfall raises:

Health:  An independent expert panel established by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Public Health gave wind a clean bill of health in January 2012, based on analyzing all available scientific studies. The agencies reported that, “There is no evidence for a set of health effects from exposure to wind turbines that could be characterized as a ‘Wind Turbine Syndrome’…we conclude the weight of the evidence suggests no association between noise from wind turbines and measures of psychological distress or mental health problems.”

Sound: Typically, two people can carry on a conversation at normal voice levels even while standing directly below a turbine. Often the loudest sound heard is the whooshing sound of the wind hitting the blades—similar to the sound of a flag in the wind. Guidelines for locating wind farms as well as local agreements keep turbines at safe distances from homes and businesses.

Shadows:  Shadows from moving wind blades typically lasts just a few minutes near sunrise and sunset in bright sun conditions, and can be addressed through the location of turbines and plantings. German researchers found that flicker would affect residents for 100 minutes per year under the worst conditions and 20 minutes per year under normal circumstances. The rate at which wind turbine shadows flicker is far below the frequency that, according to the Epilepsy Foundation, normally is associated with seizures. A 2007 report by an expert panel for the National Academy of Sciences found it to be “harmless to humans.”

Popularity: In a poll conducted in the same state where Windfall is set, residents of Lewis, County, N.Y., said by a 4 to 1 margin that the development of a local wind farm had a “positive effect” on the county, and 77% supported its expansion. Surveys routinely find that over 80% of Americans support wind power. And many local communities welcome it because of the homegrown jobs the industry creates.

Developers and communities: Wind farms sites are typically chosen with public input, and it’s in developers’ best interest to cultivate public support for their projects. That’s often not difficult to do, given that projects can contribute millions in tax revenue to rural communities that often need it most. Wind farms also provide regular lease payments to many farmers and support small-town economies.

Wind’s contribution: Over 46,000 megawatts of wind power in the U.S. are in place today, enough to power more than 10 million American homes. A new study by Navigant Consulting finds that with stable tax policy, the wind industry can grow to nearly 100,000 American jobs in the next four years – and the Department of Energy projects wind will employ 500,000 Americans by 2030.

Tax Incentives: Wind farms receive government incentives, but so do fossil-fuel industries. Through permanent measures in the tax code, fossil fuels have been subsidized for more than 90 years. American taxpayers have paid well over $500 billion to fossil-fuel industries over the years, and they are still paying. A September 2011 study by industry analysts entitled “What would Jefferson do?” found that fossil fuel received five times the government support during their startup period that renewables are getting today, and nuclear power got 10 times as much. Wind power is affordable despite this lopsided playing field.

Manufacturing: Today 60 percent of a wind turbine’s value is produced here in America, compared to 25 percent before 2005. With the support of a stable Production Tax Credit, wind energy recently has powered one of America’s fastest growing manufacturing sectors. Over the past six years, U.S. domestic production of wind turbine components has grown 12-fold, to more than 400 facilities in 43 states. That has shifted manufacturing jobs from overseas back to the U.S. Navigant Consulting found that wind manufacturing can grow here by a third within four years, to 46,000 American manufacturing jobs.

Decommissioning: Decommissioning responsibilities, like equipment removal, are typically covered in legal documents created when a wind farm first goes up. The value of the parts at resale is typically greater than the cost of removal, so wind farmers have an incentive to responsibly decommission their parts. And with roads, transmission systems, etc. already in place, wind farm sites are likely to get new turbines when old ones reach the end of their lifespan. A single new larger turbine can replace several older, smaller ones. That reduces impacts even further, especially compared with other ways of generating electricity.

Cost: Numerous studies have confirmed that increasing wind power and other renewable energy is already lowering electricity costs, such as by serving as a hedge against fluctuating natural gas prices. Since a wind turbine’s “fuel” (i.e., the wind) is free throughout the 20-plus-year lifespan of a project, wind energy is inflation-proof, protecting public utilities and their electric ratepayers. A recent report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that land-based wind farms will be “fully competitive” with conventional electricity sources by 2016. Wind diversifies America’s energy supply with clean, safe, affordable, homegrown electricity.

Wind Energy Progress

Tom Gray joined the American Wind Energy Association in 1980 and became Executive Director in 1981. He left AWEA in 1989 and rejoined the staff in 1994, as Director of Communications. He retired in 2013. He previously worked as a newspaper reporter and as a legislative assistant to the Michigan State Senate and to a U.S. Congressman. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Haverford (Pa.) College and a Juris Doctor degree from Catholic University of America. In 2003, he was selected by the U.S. Department of Energy's Wind Powering America program as a "Wind Energy Pioneer" for his work with AWEA.

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