SYDNEY – Charlie Prell doesn’t want to save the world. He just wants to do his bit for the economy of regional Australia and for the environment. And he’ll be damned if he’ll let any politician try to stop him.
Prell, 60, is a sheep farmer who runs about 800 ewes. He is also a wind power activist who is starting to build turbines on his property at Crookwell, in the NSW Southern Tablelands.
Remember when former Treasurer Joe Hockey railed against what he called the “utterly offensive” wind turbines overlooking Lake George, near Canberra? Charlie’s property is not too far north of there.
Seems like the Government still thinks wind power is pretty offensive. An ill wind continues to blow out of Canberra regarding the Government’s lack of faith in renewable energy. But for farmers like Charlie Prell, the answer to the problems of life on the land is blowing in the wind.
“I’ve spoken to lots and lots of farmers in relation to wind energy and every farmer I’ve spoken to says ‘oh yeah, if you know any way that I can get those turbines on my land, just give them my address, give them my phone number’,” Prell told HuffPost Australia.
Prell has a theory as to why governments aren’t so keen on wind power.
“There are no royalties attached to wind and solar, that’s why they hate it,” he said. “If they were getting royalties like they are for coal or for gas… the politicians at all levels would love them.”
Farmers get paid for hosting wind farms, but in his role with the Australian Wind Alliance, Prell has been trying to ensure that the benefit is shared among people on nearby properties within a few kilometres of other people’s turbines.
“My objective is to get as much money as I can out of the generators’ pockets and give it to as many people as I can on the ground here in rural Australia.
“All of a sudden the kids won’t need to leave to get a job. There’ll be a whole new regeneration of regional Australia. It’s probably 100 years or something since that happened.”
As for the purported (but widely discredited) problems with wind farms – such as the theory that the motion and sound of the blades causes mental and or/physical illness – Prell says when people are remunerated, instances of those problems seem to disappear.
“All of a sudden, everyone loves them. If people are part of a project then they’re happy to hear the noise or see the blades of the turbines flickering in the sun,” he said.
HuffPost Australia spoke to Charlie Prell for our Breaking The Ice podcast – our series of conversations with people on the front lines of climate change. We did that because, in addition to his work with wind farms, Charlie is also on the board of Farmers for Climate Action.
Charlie’s stance on action in response to climate change? In true bush style, it’s uncomplicated.
“We need to get past this crap about whether climate change is real or not and get on with the solutions. It’s not about the debate anymore, it’s about the solution. There are threats but there are massive opportunities.”
One of those opportunities is wind power. And the best thing about wind farms from a farmer’s perspective?
“Wind farms are totally synergistic with agriculture,” Prell said. “You can still run sheep or cattle or wheat or whatever at the same time as having wind turbines on your land.
We put it to Charlie that you probably can’t do that with a coal mine.
“Well, I wouldn’t like to try.”