Land owners – an unexpected windfall
Neville Michael, a farmer and temporary relief teacher in drama and Australian studies, was an early believer in wind energy when there wasn’t a single turbine spinning in South Australia.
Explaining how he came to have 14 wind turbines on his Snowtown property in South Australia, he says “A long time ago a bloke came to see me who had this crazy idea about building windmills on the site, and that was the end of 1999. We met, and we kept on meeting until the project finally started in 2007.”
After a long lead-in time and high hopes, Mr Michael received the first quarterly payment in a 25 year contract with a 25 year rollover option. Returning to education at 42 and finishing a degree in English, drama and media studies, the turbines have given him the security to be a temporary relief teacher in the region.
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His wife, Sally, a child health nurse and lactation consultant, now has the freedom to do her midwifery refresher in Adelaide. Their three children, Anna, Mary and Tom, are all starting their careers after studying and travelling, and Tom who recently returned from two years farming in Britain and the United States, is keen to stay on the land.
“What it’s meant is security, of course. Probably for the first time ever, there’s a known income,” says Mr Michael.
And while the family property was leased out more than ten years ago, the regular income from the wind turbines leaves the opportunity to return to the land.
Mr Michael now looks at the top of the hills on the farm and sees his superannuation spinning. Apart from the excitement of the ‘windmills’, it gives him great comfort in what is one of the biggest issues for any farming family: succession.
“So instead of drawing a retirement income out of the family farm, which puts an additional strain on the next generation, a steady income from the turbines takes a bit of the pressure off,” he explains.
Janet Hall, an absentee landowner at the AGL Hallett 1 wind farm in South Australia, is also very appreciative of a regular income in a time of drought. The quarterly payments from the four turbines on her family’s property, which were purchased in 2004, were an unexpected windfall.
The Halls purchased the hilly property near Jamestown without any knowledge of the neighbouring wind farm development. Whereas the previous owners hadn’t wanted to be part of the development, the Halls saw the potential. “It’s an income that we didn’t expect,” says Ms Hall.
As a native bird lover she fears the slim possibility of a bird strike from a turbine blade, but says the bonus of shade for animals on hot days is “incredible to see”.
“On a hot day you’ll see all the animals just lined up in a row all along the shadow to catch that. It’s the same with magpies as well. The animals have worked out the benefit of that bit of shadow. They’ve sourced it out and they’re parking themselves there.”
Pam and John Staker have just one turbine on their Hallett farm, which they crop and graze, but would love to have at least half a dozen more.
Mr Staker says “I am a big fan, from a property owner’s point of view, it is an income bonus. We’ve had no qualms about the construction phase at all…it was just a dream.”
The Stakers nearly always take visitors to the wind farms, and as Mr Staker says, they are always impressed.
Merv Robinson, who was born and bred in Jamestown, was the first landowner in the region with a Suzlon turbine. Tower number one had the whole town watching, and it’s been a real buzz ever since the first spinning blade.
Mr Robinson said the positives were many, including good roads through their hilly region. Vaughan Semler, who manages property in the area for Adelaide University, is the local fire captain and says the new roads built as part of the scheme were a blessing for good fire access.
He adds that the community was generally very accepting of the wind farm development because of jobs and the green power created.
“It’s a lot better than having a coal fired power station built. The businesses in the towns have benefited a lot, of course people have to eat and sleep and they’ve done very well out of it.”
Local employment opportunities
Francis ‘Spud’ Bunfield was a farmer, had never seen a wind turbine or logged on to a computer, and had no trade to speak of. He is now a technician, and was one of five local staff to help build the AGL Hallett 1 wind farm, about three hours north of Adelaide.
Where many rural communities are missing a generation of young people who move to cities for work, Jamestown is defying the trend by recording population growth.
The local council CEO, Keith Hope, said there had been a significant change of dynamics in the town with younger people and families moving in.
Benefiting local businesses
Jeff Rowe, whose transport company in Jamestown, South Australia, is now home base for nine semi-trailers, makes an astute observation about the health of country towns.
“The secret to a successful country town is they’ve all got farming plus something else. Wind is our non-farm related boost and it’s brought our kids back.
“Part of the success story of Suzlon has been the growth of local businesses and the broadening of the economy in small rural towns. Wind farms have kept Jamestown going. This has been a real boost to the town’s confidence at a time when the country is doing it hard,” he adds.
While his trucking business was healthy before Suzlon began constructing wind farms in the region, which requires trucking massive turbines, blades and cranes all over the country, Mr Rowe can point to the difference the wind farms in the region have made to his business, which now has 13 permanent staff.
“We were growing, but we certainly wouldn’t be able to get this,” says Jeff, opening his arms wide to show off his impressive new depot in Jamestown’s industrial estate, where Suzlon is also committed to building a permanent warehouse.
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