The heroic farmer sticking it to the government

Farmers For Climate Action campaigning for change
Anthony Sharwood writes in the Huffington Post Australia (29 August 2017), about a farmer, who has taken on a mission to play his part in moving Australia towards sustainable energy use and bring together other farmers to do the same.

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 has multiple sheep feeders placed around his farm and owns multiple barns for the sheep to shelter in. His farm began with a few lambs and has now grown to where he is today. Charlie is now focusing his efforts on a sustainable future and is keen to change the planet. He is also a wind power activist who is starting to build turbines on his property at Crookwell, in the NSW Southern Tablelands. Wind turbines are becoming more and more popular these days, with more consumers looking for renewable energy sources. When building wind turbines, many different manufacturing companies have to be contacted for the parts. When sourcing the blades, it’s likely that companies will have used resin to manufacture the blades. By using a vacuum bag, sourced from somewhere like Plastic Materials, companies are able to manufacture larger parts. This means that farmers looking to add some wind turbines to their land should be able to source the parts easily.

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.”

David Gray / Reuters A farmer ploughs a field in front of wind turbines. You never saw a similar sentence that ends with the word “coal mine”.

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.”

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