Entries in Laura Israel (2)
9/12/10 Same stories, different locations: Why are people complaining about living near wind turbines? AND How a documentary about rural town facing wind developers is opening eyes
Wind Turbine Sounds Spur Health Complaints, Force Residents to Move
The spread of wind turbines into quiet rural areas is leading to increasing complaints that they make more noise than residents were led to believe.
While simple annoyance and sleep disturbance are the most common effects, in some cases, nearby residents are reporting health problems that they associate with the presence of the turbines, leading some to move from their homes.
Not long after wind turbines began to spin in March near Gerry Meyer’s home in Wisconsin, his son Robert, 13, and wife, Cheryl, complained of headaches.
Cheryl also sometimes feels a fluttering in her chest, while Gerry is sometimes nauseated and hears crackling.
The nearest turbine is 1,560 feet from Meyer’s house. His dismay over an energy source he once thought was benign has made the retired mailman, 59, an activist. He travels the state warning communities considering wind farms to be wary.
“I don’t think anyone should have to put up with this,” says Meyer, who compares the sound to a helicopter or a jet taking off.
In Canada, Helen and Bill Fraser initially supported the nearby wind farm in Melancthon, Ont. One turbine sat close to the Fraser’s kitchen window. “We thought, more green energy, this is great,” Helen told CTV News. However, Helen says she developed headaches, body aches and she had trouble sleeping. The dog began wetting the floor at night.
“There were nights I was lying in bed and my heart would beat to the pulse of the turbine. It was an uneasy feeling,” Helen said.
Ernie Marshall at first supported the wind farm that was placed near his home near Goderich, Ont. However, he also says that once the turbines got rolling, his health began to suffer.
“I had problems with my heart, with my eyes, my digestive system,” Marshall told CTV News. “It traumatizes your whole body.”
Some affected residents can only sell their homes and move away. The Frasers left their home of 32 years and moved to nearby Shelburne, Ont. They say their symptoms have, for the most part, vanished.
Ernie Marshall moved to the town of Seaforth, Ont., which is several kilometers away from the turbines near his former home. “I had to get out or I wouldn’t be standing here talking to you,” Marshall said.
Dr. Nina Pierpont, a pediatrician in upstate New York, has interviewed dozens of people who live near windmills in Canada, the United States and Europe. Her [recently] released book, Wind Turbine Syndrome, documents the litany of health problems experienced by some people who have wind farms near their homes.
Some early findings suggest that wind turbines create a high intensity, low frequency sound that may have an effect on the body. Not only can the sound potentially cause debilitating illness.
Some researchers believe that the vibrations the sound causes in the inner ear may lead to vibro-acoustic disease, which can cause dizziness, nausea and sleep disturbances. However, officials with the Canadian Wind Energy Association point to a handful of studies they say prove that windmills lead to few, if any, adverse health effects.
“We know there have been complaints about health impacts of wind turbines,” Sean Whittaker of the Canadian Wind Energy Association told CTV News. “On the other hand, we know there are some 10,000 turbines installed across North America and complaints have been relatively few.”
The issue has not just put experts at odds. Communities across North America are divided between residents who say local windmills have made them sick and their neighbors who don’t believe them.
“Everyone was calling me a liar,” Ernie Marshall said. “It don’t matter who you talk to. You bring ‘em out here and they’ll say that noise don’t bother us. Sit there for a week under that and listen to it and see what it does to your body.”
The inconsistencies in the early research, coupled with the fact that some residents who live near wind turbines complain of such a wide array of symptoms, are evidence that further study is needed to determine if Wind Turbine Syndrome is a problem, how big of one and what should be done, experts say.
“Depending on your distance you’ll have 30, 40, 50 per cent of people who are troubled, but not 100 per cent,” Dr. Robert McMurtry of the University of Western Ontario told CTV News. “That’s why it’s important to do these studies to see just how many are troubled and how real it is.”
“Then I started to meet some people from Meredith. A lot of them—artists, writers—go up there to be alone. This topic pulled them out of their shells to work together.”
So began Israel’s foray into directing, Windfall, an excellent documentary–a real discovery in Toronto–which is as much a study of a small rural community torn asunder as it is of the pros and cons of the massive turbines which energy salesmen were pitching to the locals.
For a price, the residents could agree to let them build the massive structures on their land. In a town with no zoning, the reps from an energy outfit in Ireland anticipated huge profits.
Even though Delaware County is one of the five poorest in New York State, other towns were not as easily seduced as some of the homeowners in Meredith, who signed contracts for a relative pittance.
Most of those who agreed had been born there, former dairy farmers hard it by the economy and changes in agrarian commerce. Most of the opposition was comprised of former or current residents of New York City, whom the lifetimers, according to Israel, call “flatlanders.”
The feud became bitter, culminating in a new slate of candidates vying in a coming municipal election for the offices long held by lifers. The lines were drawn; the debate became more and more bitter.
“I don’t think it was like that before the subject came up,” says Israel. “There are no chi-chi boutiques there; it’s not that kind of town. It seemed like everyone got along. This subject pushed people into corners.” The lead-up to the election gives the film rhythmic, suspenseful momentum.
Israel interviews her subjects outdoors, capturing a natural, unforced bucolic backdrop enriched by a plucky, country-tinged score.
Most of them have interesting back stories that provide digressive texture. Stop-motion animator Dean Modino brings alive maps, photographs, and, building up over the course of the film’s running time, the wind turbines themselves, already cinematic by design.
As one relative newcomer to Meredith says, “These are not the 50’ windmills of Don Quixote. These are 400’ high.” Each blade is 130’ long, weighs seven tons, and moves at 150 miles per hour. The whishing noise is non-stop, and much worse when it rains.
The well-informed interviewees who stood against the turbines articulate their positions, as do several environmentalists and energy experts.
When erected too near peoples’ homes, the turbines wreak emotional and psychological havoc on the residents. Tug Hill, in Lowville, New York, is one place where 400 of them were built, and the townspeople have found them oppressive.
One subject says that to be built and maintained, they require fossil fuels, and it is questionable if the amount that they put back into the grid is worth the effort. Green and wind energy may be mutually exclusive terms.
Israel is the first to say she does not offer definitive answers. “I’m just asking people to look into it more. I know there’s a lot going on in Europe, even in Denmark. People there are asking if there really is that much power coming from the wind turbines.
“We want desperately to have easy answers. Then all you have to do is send in some money and someone else can take care of it.”
4/5/10 Friday night at the movies: Wake up and smell the turbines: 'Windfall' documentary to be screened in Evanston, IL on Friday.
Director: Laura Israel
7:30 PM • HINMAN THEATER at HOTEL ORRINGTON
USA | 80 min. I Director: Laura Israel I Regional Premiere
ADDED SCREENING on Sat, May 8 • 11 AM • NEXT THEATRE
Director Laura Israel and producer Autumn Tarleton will be there in person. Screening sponsored by Comix Revolution.
By Marilyn Ferdinand
Just a few days ago, The Daily Beast and the Transparency International (TI), a global anti-corruption research organization, examined 500 global companies to determine how corrupt they might be based on their ethics and anti-corruption policies.
They found, perhaps surprisingly, that utility companies had the fewest protections against corruption of any industry they examined, including the investment sector.
In case you think The Daily Beast and TI might be mistaken, consider how you feel about wind energy. You’ll certainly never have to clean up an oil spill from it.
Or might you, indirectly?
Industrial-size windmills are the only form of energy that uses energy from the grid—which runs on natural gas and fossil fuels—and there are no data on whether they return more energy than they use.
It’s safe for people, of course. Except that numerous health effects have been noted, including ringing in the ears, interrupted sleep, and headaches that have driven people from their homes.
The turbines also throw ice from their blades that can injure and kill, and they have been known to fall over or catch fire from lightning strikes and shed debris.
It’s good for the environment—except for birds who fly too close to the 7-ton blades of the 400-foot-tall towers and bats, whose lungs literally explode because of an air vacuum that the blades leave in their wake.
Wind energy on an industrial scale is hazardous, unsightly, a noise polluter, and probably consumes more energy than it generates. But most people don’t know that, and that’s by design.
The citizens of the tiny, impoverished town of Meredith, New York, certainly didn’t when the wind energy salespeople came to town to offer financial relief in exchange for leases to build wind turbines there.
The people of Meredith went from naïve nature lovers to big-time skeptics, and from neighborliness to bitter division. Windfall is a cautionary tale of underhanded business dealings, small-town corruption, and laissez-faire citizenship that had to give way under the imminent threat of an irreversible intrusion into their rural idyll.
Meredith is a community in upstate New York that has seen its thriving dairy farms go from more than 1,000 to less than 10. When the energy companies came to town, they made offers to lease land, primarily to the largest landowners because of the need for at least 15–30 miles for a profitable siting.
They offered a profit split to the town. A few people got on board, but had to sign confidentiality agreements that they would not discuss the deal with anyone but their attorney.
Nonetheless, word leaked out that wind turbines would be coming to Meredith when a test tower went up on John Hamilton’s property; Hamilton, one of the few dairy farmers still left, felt villified by the wind energy skeptics, who organized The Alliance for Meredith to do fact-finding on the commercial proposals and consider a town-owned commercial wind project by which all the benefits from a single turbine would accrue to the citizens of Meredith.
As this film shows through interviews, footage of planning board and town board meetings, a visit to a neighboring town that rejected wind energy and one that accepted it and saw the project balloon from a planned 50 turbines to 195 with none of the benefits to the town they expected, the fight over wind power is a painful and difficult process.
Because of tax credits for alternative energy offered by the national and state governments, and a complete lack of regulation, wind energy is incredibly profitable for investors and energy companies. Lessors get about $5,000 and neighbor agreements go for $500. Municipalities get about 1–2% of the profits—when all is said and done, local governments might get enough money to buy a single fire truck.
We also see how Meredith’s town board, comprised of the largest landowners, could pass laws that would personally benefit them financially. Instead of accepting the findings of the planning board, per usual, that wind turbines should not be sited in Meredith, the town board chose to establish a Wind Energy Review Board appointed by and answerable to them alone.
This show of arrogance inflamed the citizens of Meredith and set up an election season that for the first time in a long time, was a real horse race.
Windfall is a comprehensive look at a largely misunderstood technology. It is must-viewing for environmentalists and for small towns who might find an energy worm burrowing into their midst. Clean, safe energy is everyone’s wish. Let’s just make sure we don’t jump at the first carnival barker with a miracle solution.
The May 7 screening of Windfall is sold out. A second screening has been added on May 8 at 11:00 a.m. at Next Theatre at Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes Street, Evanston, Illinois.
NOTE FROM THE BPWI RESEARCH NERD:
Better Plan was fortunate enough to see an early version of 'Windfall' and we were struck by the similarities to the Wisconsin experience of wind developers targeting rural towns and local governments. The events detailed in the film will be familiar to anyone who has been called a 'NIMBY' for questioning wind industry practices and claims. For those who know very little about how the wind industry works, this film will be an eye-opening experience.