Fear is one of the primary human emotions. Fear of the unknown. Fear of new ideas that disrupt conventional wisdom. Fear is a significant factor in the concerns people have about electric vehicles and renewable energy. Those who have a stake in the status quo play on our fears to protect their vested interests. They talk about range anxiety and grid resiliency to make us believe the way we did things years ago is the way we should continue doing things in the future.
Reinventing Power is a new documentary produced by Transit Pictures for the Sierra Club. It’s focus is not to preach about the morality of renewable energy — how it will save the Earth, polar bears, and piping plovers — but how renewables are helping people find new economic opportunities that benefit themselves and their communities. It is a film designed to extinguish the fears about renewables fostered by fossil fuel companies and replace it with an acceptance of the benefits that will flow from a transition to renewable energy.
“A lot of the arguments you hear about clean energy are moral — like it’s the right thing to do,” Brennon Edwards, head of Transit Pictures, tells Fast Company. “We wanted to go for something different, and show how renewable energy is revitalizing communities and revitalizing industries. There’s basically no political or celebrity attachment to it. These are just real Americans who are having this change affect their lives, and it’s happening all over the country.”
At present, there are more than 800,000 Americans working in the renewable energy sector of the US economy. One of them is Chris Bruce of Michigan, who lost his job in the auto industry in 2008. “After I lost my job, I had about three days of sulking, and then I got up and decided to listen to some of my co-workers’ advice to look into wind turbines,” he says in the documentary. Now he works as a wind turbine engineer.
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“We’re telling the story of the clean energy revolution through the voices of the people who are benefiting from it,” says Mary Ann Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “We wanted the viewers to be able to see themselves in these stories, because there’s still a lot of fear and anxiety around transitioning away from fossil fuels.”
The people in the film include Horace Pritchard, a farmer who lives near Elizabeth City, North Carolina. He was approached about installing wind turbines on his property a decade ago. Today, the lease he has with the wind energy company pays his bills and he is still able to farm most of the land the way he has always done. Pritchard says some of his neighbors also have wind turbines on their farms. Their only concern is that there aren’t enough of them because the turbines provide a more reliable income than farming.
The film focuses on the first offshore wind project in the United States off the shores of Block Island. Power from that installation has allowed the island to shut down its diesel-powered generating plant, eliminating a source of noise and pollution that interfered with its main economic activity — tourism. In its place, new industries have emerged. Locals now take tourists out on the water to view the wind farm up close. Commercial fisherman report they are catching more fish near the turbines than they ever did before in that area. One segment of the documentary follows Bryan Wilson of Deepwater Wind, the company that built the offshore wind farm, as he tells how wind power has transformed Block Island.
The current political rhetoric in America is that renewables are responsible for job losses and are weakening the industries that made America great decades ago. But those industries are dying of their own accord, says Mary Ann Hitt. Renewable energy benefits all Americans, especially those in so-called red states and rural areas, she adds.
“Renewables will require us to rebuild the entire energy infrastructure,” Brennon Edwards says. “Our energy infrastructure is crumbling and it has to be rebuilt one way or another. This is happening regardless of politics.”
The current administration relies on fear to advance its agenda, including its ill conceived and illegal plan to prop up coal and nuclear power with taxpayer dollars. Reinventing Power seeks to address those fears and show that a nation that aspires to true greatness must embrace the future, not the past. The documentary will be available June 27. You can contact the Sierra Club to learn more about how to screen the film for your friends, family, or members of your community.