CLICKING ON Portland General Electric's renewable energy options is easy enough; for a few extra bucks, one's power can be offset with a cocktail of power from renewable sources. Like most Portlanders, I'm pretty good about patting myself on the back for doing the responsible thing whenever I pay my PGE bill, but I also congratulate myself whenever I'm ambitious enough to toss beer bottles in the recycling or turn off a faucet. That said, whenever I do any of these things, I also remember a 2006 story from The Onion, "I'm Doing My Inconsequential Part for the Environment," written by an excruciatingly conscientious do-gooder. "Won't you join me in this ongoing effort to foster an imperceptible improvement to this doomed and dying planet?" he begs, bragging about his compost heap and low-flow toilet. "Together, we can make an unbelievably negligible difference."
It's the wind energy part of that ongoing effort that's relevant to Windfall, a documentary about what happened when wind turbines came to rural New York. At first, the well-meaning residents of Meredith—a farming community with a less-than-great economy—were delighted to lease their land to Scottish wind power company Airtricity. But rather than just sign away their land, some of Meredith's more studious residents found unexpected problems: the 400-foot-tall turbines could dominate their town's landscape, the turbines' noise and shadows could significantly devalue their homes, and there's the risk of a turbine catching on fire or flinging ice or just, you know, falling. So Meredith found itself divided, its town meetings filled with bickering neighbors who either wanted the turbines or argued against them.
Windfall is well meaning enough, and the issues at its core—like how normal people will adjust to the world's radically changing energy needs, or how governments deal with the financiers behind wind energy—are certainly worth examining. But Windfall is so focused on Meredith's squabbling neighbors that those issues get pushed to the background. What could've been a doc that picked up where An Inconvenient Truth left off—one dealing with regular people struggling to do their tiny, tiny part—instead feels small and petty, like a real-life version of the monorail episode of The Simpsons. Sadly, there's not a single song about turbines.