Thursday, August 11, 2011


At first glance Windfall is about the evils of wind farms. While all sorts of evils are pointed out (the noise, the flicker of shadows through house and car windows, ice being flung from the blades in winter, the killing of bats, the interference with TV transmission and the need to back them up with another generating source) the main problems dealt with in Windfall are man made.

There are no regulations on wind energy at either the federal level or the state level in New York state and it is left to each town to come up with their own regulations or not. On top of that most of the funding to build windfarms come from the subsidies and tax breaks from the state and federal governments. There is also a wierd accelerated depreciation system that allows a new owner to start depreciating the wind farm all over again. This encourages wind farms to be bought and sold at short intervals.

Windfall focuses on the small dairy farming town of Meredith in New York state (pop. 1500), as an example of how the process works in that part of America. The windfarm companies don't make public anouncements or talk to the town council, they approach individuals and get them to sign non-disclosure agreements before any deal is discussed. The individuals chosen are those with significan land holdings and either an important position in town or possible financial issues. So the town supervisor (equivalent of our mayor) and other on the town council and its planning board are among those approached. This approach stymies, or taints the creation of town regulations. The documentary also notes how the more affluent nearby towns aren't approached.

Given that many of those who oppose the windfarm are self confessed green retirees from New York city I began to wonder if this was a case of NIMBYism. But it seems like these were the ones that were suspicious enough to ask questions, and with the time to research wind turbines. Everyone in the town, regardless of side of the debate they were on, agreed that the wind farm debate was the most divisive thing to hit Meredith. The film climaxed with the election for town council.

Windfall is an object lesson in how corporations behave when governments give them handouts and tax breaks and how they behave in a regulation free environment. It is a strong argument why the Resource Management Act should not be weakened and illustrates how government handouts and tax breaks distort business decision making. Ultimately it is an argument against lopsided negotiations between individuals and corporations especially when those decisions affect neighbours.

Ian's rating 3/5

On 16 August 2011 Kathryn Ryan's Nine to Noon radio program (podcast available) covered a documentary called Gasland about the lack of regulation of the American natural gas industry and the process of fracking (hydraulic fracturing). In NZ there is fracking going on in Taranaki and Canterbury.

No comments:

Post a Comment