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For South Africa’s Growing Wind Energy Sector, Guidelines are Essential

Last Tuesday, Conservation South Africa (CSA) launched a new best practice guideline document for wind power developers called “Wind Energy and the Triple Bottom Line.” The document, developed in partnership with the Endangered Wildlife Trust and the German government, is great news for wind energy developers as it turns a whirlwind of complicated legislation and regulations into a breeze, covering practices for all phases in the life of a wind farm.
 
At present, South Africa is heavily reliant on coal to produce our electricity — a process that results in the release of carbon into the atmosphere. South Africa is currently ranked as the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in Africa.
 
The environmental issues resulting from our coal dependence are far-reaching, from air pollution and extensive water consumption to the huge financial burdens associated with cleaning up after impacts like acid mine drainage and the contamination of rivers and streams. In comparison, wind power is free, and the energy it produces has little impact on the environment.
 
I am proud to say that South Africa, having signed the Kyoto Protocol and more recently the Copenhagen Accord, has committed to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 34% by 2020.
 
At the moment, the country has only two small wind farms linked to the national electricity grid: one in Darling and another in Klipheuwel in the Western Cape. However, the national government is aiming to expand our renewable energy capacity from 2 gigawatts to 20 gigawatts by 2020; nearly half of this is planned to come from wind. As a result, there are currently around 88 applications for new wind farms in South Africa.
 
Developing wind energy in South Africa will not come without challenges. The locations most favored and appropriate for wind energy developments tend to be in isolated areas that often lack basic infrastructure. The social dynamics in these places are complex, and it can be difficult for outsiders to gain a foothold in local communities. In addition, many people have concerns about the visual and acoustic impacts of wind power production, as well as its impact on bird and bat populations.
 
Finding a happy medium for all these stakeholders is critical, as the wind energy sector has the potential to create thousands of direct and indirect jobs in the rural areas of the Northern, Western and Eastern Cape provinces. This injection of capital to our economy is essential if we are to address unemployment, which currently sits at 24.9%.
 
CSA’s new wind energy guidelines attempt to address local concerns, recommending that environmental impact assessments include the use of spatial-mapping tools developed by the conservation sector to inform their decision-making and ensure that the wind farms are built in the most effective locations.
 
The guidelines recommend that developers consider their biodiversity and social impacts and assess the associated risks in order to maximize their business opportunities. Some of the factors we recommended they consider include:
 
  • wildlife habitat
  • noise pollution
  • geology
  • hydrological processes and impacts on water
  • cultural heritage
  • livelihood impact
  • visual and auditory impact
The launch of the guidelines brochure, which took place at the African Energy Indaba in Johannesburg, was opened by Caterina Daginnus of the German Embassy. I was very proud to hear Daginnus praise the initiative, especially when she said that it perfectly complements her country’s commitment to making a meaningful effort in combating global climate change.
 
As Sarah Frazee, director of Conservation South Africa, added: “Given the scale of our commitments to a green economy, this guide could not have come at a better time. If followed correctly, it will demonstrate that wind power and its development can be a truly clean and green renewable energy source for South Africa.”
 
Tessa Mildenhall is the communications and operations director of Conservation South Africa. Check out the wind guideline document.