Brakes put on Controversial Eastern Cape Wind Farm - BLSA Media Release
Posted on the 17th April 2019
Johannesburg, 16 April 2019 - BirdLife South Africa welcomes the decision of Ms L. Zulu, the Acting Minister of the Department of Environmental Affairs, to uphold our appeal against the environmental authorisation issued for the controversial Inyanda Roodeplaat Wind Farm in the Groot Winterhoekberg in the Eastern Cape. The proposed wind farm would be constructed in an almost pristine environment, surrounded by protected areas. BirdLife South Africa trusts that the Department will apply its mind when reviewing the available information and ultimately refuse the application in its entirety.
BirdLife South Africa supports renewable energy, but wind energy facilities can have negative environmental impacts. Among other things, birds and bats can be killed if they collide with the rapidly moving turbine blades. Animals may also be disturbed or displaced at wind energy facilities and, although these impacts can be less obvious, they may also be significant. BirdLife South Africa therefore does not support the development of wind turbines in or adjacent to important conservation areas, or in other areas where they may present a risk to raptors and other threatened species.
BirdLife South Africa was surprised when the proposed Inyanda Roodeplaat Wind Farm was granted environmental authorisation in April 2018. The proposed development site has been identified as a focus area for protected area expansion, both at a national and provincial level (e.g. the Addo to Eden Corridor and Baviaanskloof World Heritage Site expansion). It is located between and is almost surrounded by three portions of Groendal Nature Reserve, and it is uncomfortably close to the Bavianskloof World Heritage Site. A number of experts, including the Eastern Cape Department of Economic Development and Environmental Affairs, rightly questioned the compatibility of the proposed wind energy facility with the surrounding land use.
BirdLife South Africa concerns extended to the negative effects of the proposed wind farm on birds, especially raptors. The following species could be negatively impacted: Martial Eagle (listed as Endangered in the Eskom Red Data Book of Birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland), Black Harrier (also Endangered and found only in southern Africa) and Verreaux’s Eagle (previously known as Black Eagle, listed as Vulnerable).
The majority of the turbines would have been located on a narrow ridge top and spur ridges, thus placing them in direct line of flightpaths used by birds.
Apparently not satisfied with the first avifaunal impact assessment (which was not in favour of the wind farm), the applicant appointed an expert from outside of South Africa to review, and later update, the study. The foreign specialist agreed that impacts on birds would be significant but was of the opinion that these impacts could be mitigated. The topography of the site provided little opportunity to move the turbines to reduce the risk of collisions, leaving measures such as shutting turbines down when birds are at risk and habitat management as potential mitigation options.
“It is easier to avoid foreseeable impacts than to remedy them,” says Samantha Ralston-Paton, BirdLife South Africa’s Birds and Renewable Energy Project Manager. “We have yet to see operational phase mitigation being effectively implemented at wind farms in South Africa. The cost and an uncertainly associated with stopping turbines if birds are at risk is seen as prohibitively expensive by many wind energy operators, and habitat management as a mitigation measure remains untested in South Africa and could have unanticipated negative impacts on the surrounding environment”. The NGO therefore advocates locating wind turbines away from habitats that are important for the conservation of birds and other biodiversity.
Amid strong criticism from a number of experts, the Department called for a peer review to aid its deliberation. Yet very surprisingly, before this review was concluded, environmental authorisation was granted. This decision was appealed by BirdLife South Africa and four other stakeholders.
Allegations have been made that eagle nests were burned and that eagles were shot in an attempt to sway the environmental impact assessment. The wind farm has also been linked to the controversial Watson family, alongside allegations raised at the Zondo Commission on State Capture against Minister Nomvula Mokonyane. “We are not in a position to verify the validity of these accusations” notes Mark D. Anderson, CEO of BirdLife South Africa, “but we are delighted that the appeals have been upheld and the decision has been set aside”. The matter has been remitted to the Department for further consultation and deliberation and BirdLife South Africa is optimistic that common sense will prevail.
“Renewable energy is an important part of our climate change mitigation strategy”, concludes BirdLife South Africa, “but it should not be at the expense of resilience to climate change. Resilience depends on healthy, intact environments. Through our work, we help achieve that balance”.