Update on renewable energy developments in the Western Cape
Written by Sam Ralston - Western Cape Birding.
BirdLife South Africa supports the responsible development of Renewable Energy in South Africa with due regard to minimising the impact on birds. The Birds & Wind Energy Specialist Group - a group of specialists who guide BirdLife South Africa and EWT’s work towards minimising the impact of wind energy on birds - has been identified as a key stakeholder in the roll out of RE developments and provides advice to government, industry and environmental consultants.
(1) Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Programme (REIPPP). This programme has been designed to allow independent power producers to generate renewable energy and input this into the national grid. Initially there were hundreds of EIA applications for wind and solar energy sites. Some have been withdrawn or have lapsed. Only a small percentage of those projects with environmental approval will ever be built. There is a lot of development pressure in the Eastern Cape due to the perceived socio-economic benefits of renewable energy development. In the Western Cape, most of the proposed wind farms are in the West Coast and Karoo.
(2) Wind Energy
There have been three rounds of this project thus far:
- Round 1: 634MW (8 wind farms, approx. 250 turbines)
- Round 2: 563MW (7 wind farms, approx. 225 turbines)
- Round 3: 787MW (7 wind farms, approx. 300 turbines)
Bids have recently been submitted for the 4th round.
Preferred Bidders in the Western Cape:
- Round 1: Dassiesklip Wind Energy Facility, Hopefield Wind Farm (operational or near operational).
- Round 2: Wind Farm West Coast 1, Gouda Wind Farm (under construction).
- Round 3: None in the Western Cape.
Wind Energy and Birds. Wind energy can have a negative impact on birds. Potential threats include collision, habitat loss, displacement, and disturbance. Not all turbines are dangerous. Site selection and monitoring are critical. Experience in other parts of the world is that mortality through collisions is a rare event. One study looked at statistics from projects in various parts of the world and came up with an estimated average of 2.3 mortalities per turbine per year, but the variation in rates between wind farms is significant with a range of 0-60 mortalities/turbine/year. Most groups of birds are affected but raptors account for a large number of mortalities.
(3) Solar Energy. Solar plants/farms are designed to generate power through the photovoltaic (PV) process or concentrated solar power (CSP). CSP has the capacity to store energy for up to 9 hours.
Solar Projects in the Western Cape:
- Vredendal, Electra Capital, Aurora, SlimSun Swartland Solar Park, proposed Touwsrivier facility.
Solar Energy and Birds. Habitat loss was initially thought to be the biggest problem with solar energy. However, there is increasing evidence that birds can also be impacted by impact trauma or stranding if they collide with the reflective panels. Solar flux (areas of concentrated solar energy) at CSP facilities using power towers can also affect birds by burning them.
(4) BirdLife South Africa’s Approach.
Discourage proposals in sensitive areas:
- Tools: Avian Wind Sensitivity Map, Strategic Environmental Assessment, project screening.
Promote rigorous impact assessment:
- Tools: Best Practice Guidelines (wind) (not produced currently for solar), capacity building
(DEA and specialists), comment on EIAs/casework. Note: DEA has not officially endorsed
Promote monitoring of impacts.
- Tools: Best Practice Guidelines, review monitoring reports.
Promote knowledge development.
- Tools: Central repository for monitoring reports, facilitate research, facilitate information
Note: The Letseng wind facility in Lesotho has been approved. There is huge concern regarding the impact on the endangered Bearded Vulture. BLSA is working closely with the Department of the Environment in Lesotho and the developer in an attempt to resolve the issue.
(5) Challenges and Future Focus.
Solar energy: Monitoring and impact assessment.
Wind energy: (i) Post-construction monitoring critical; (ii) Operational phase mitigation.
- Defining “acceptable” levels of impact.
- Species specific guidance.
- Data management and access to data.
- Strategic environmental assessment.
- Cumulative impact on populations over a number of turbines.
- Sensitivity map.
(6) What Bird Clubs can do.
Information gathering (e.g. SABAP2) to feed into Sensitivity map and screening.
Comment on EIAs - local knowledge, engage with the details, and support Best Practice.
Voluntary monitoring (e.g. My Bird Patch)
Lobby developers to contribute to local conservation initiatives.
Keep BirdLife South Africa informed.
Use less electricity.
Comments and Questions:
- (KH): There is the question of the distance covered by power lines from turbines to energy grid. EIAs cover only the immediate area of the turbines, not the area covered by power lines. (SR) Agree. The guidelines recommend that power lines be checked and marked.
- (DW): Are wind farm developers adhering to the guidelines given? (SR) Compliance is increasing. This is where post-construction monitoring is important.
- (DW): How sure are we about the predictions made in EIA? (SR): The Sensitivity map is being updated. It sufficed for initial guidelines but more research is now needed.
- (TW): BLSA is pushing an over emphasis on raptors being impacted by wind turbines; other species are not taken into account to the same extent. (SR): Raptors do seem to be more vulnerable than waterbirds which seem to avoid turbines to some degree. (TW) They fly at night at turbine height. (PN): Waterbirds are a priority at the Gouda site.
- (PN): Observers monitor species on the map, flight path and height at which the bird is flying. The information is given to the contractor. PN’s concern is whether there is an oversight mechanism to ensure it is being followed. (SR) Yes, this is the role of the appointed bird specialists. Data recorded by observers is taken into account and adhered to where clear patterns emerge.