When John DeGroote and Charlie Prell spoke up for small business and farming in the Goulburn region at a Senate hearing in Canberra earlier this week they knew they had many people behind them. John and Charlie are Australian Wind Alliance members who are both based in the Goulburn region.
Divalls Earthmoving chief engineer John DeGroote has worked at wind farm sites for the past few years, and told the Senate Select Committee on Wind Turbines, “I know the significance of the wind industry for construction and haulage, but also for all the small to medium businesses in the regional supply chain. I am speaking up for them, not just Divalls.”
“When it comes to the question of health effects, unemployment is a much greater threat to the health of local people than wind turbines. In the last two years of wind farm construction I have seen only positive health impacts on our workforce,” he said.
Prospective Crookwell wind farm host and long-term advocate for combining farming and renewables Charlie Prell pointed to other regions that have embraced wind energy. “The best examples are in Europe where community ownership is required for every project. In those countries where communities are also investors, reports of health effects are virtually unheard of.”
Charlie told the hearing the opportunity to receive lease payments for hosting wind turbines had “turned my farm from a financially broken wreck into a viable business.”
It had also turned his life around after suffering stress and depression as a result of drought.
He said the payments from the wind farm company were longer-term, more secure and sustainable than government drought assistance, something he had been forced to draw on in the past. “Virtually every farmer I’ve spoken to has been supportive of this move, and would love to host wind turbines themselves. ”
“I want to assist as many farmers as I can to go down this road to economic, environmental, and ecological sustainability,” he said. Charlie is now going some way towards doing this as a part-time organiser for the Australian Wind Alliance.
Goulburn Chamber of Commerce President Prue Martin and The Goulburn Group Convenor of Community Energy 4 Goulburn (CE4G) Peter Fraser met with John and Charlie before they departed for Canberra.
“The Chamber is on record in support of regional investment in wind farms and I applaud Charlie and John for taking time out to address the Inquiry”, said Prue Martin. “It’s not easy to leave your comfort zone and speak up for our community at this level. Charlie and John are examples of a growing number of local farmers and business people willing to stand up positively for regional energy investment,” she said.
Peter Fraser agreed. “The Goulburn Group established CE4G to identify community energy opportunities across the region. It is clear that community ownership in wind farm projects is something that should be explored and supported by NSW Planning, the wind industry and local communities.”
With the future foremost in mind, advocates see the potential for Goulburn to become a regional hub for renewables with strong community involvement. Those opposing this vision have yet to furnish an alternative regional future.
John and Charlie are members of the Australian Wind Alliance. They spoke alongside AWA’s National Coordinator Andrew Bray at the Senate hearing.
* Charlie Prell is also a founding member of the Regional Renewable Alliance of farmers. John DeGroote lives within 2 kms of the Gullen Range Wind Farm, is the Chief Engineer with Divalls Haulage and a representative on the Board of Southern Region Renewable Energy Excellence (SERREE).