The Western Cape’s rural landscape is set to be transformed with forests of wind turbines – as many as 600 in one location – as developers gear up to put the government’s renewable energy plan into action.
The Cape Times has established that there are 88 applications to build wind farms around South Africa. Of these, 40 are in the Western Cape. If all 40 wind farms are approved, there will be a minimum of 2 800 wind turbines scattered around the province. The final number of turbines will definitely be greater as the developers of five of the proposed wind farms have not yet decided how many turbines they will build.
The Eastern Cape is also being favoured by wind energy developers, with 31 applications to build wind farms in that province.
These figures were confirmed by the Department of Environment Affairs, which is required to process environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for all wind farm application. The wind turbines will dominate several rural landscapes in the province, as each turbine is between 80m to 120m tall, the height of a 20 to 30-storey building.
The proposed Western Cape wind farms are sited at places to make the most of the available wind, as well as being near Eskom transmission lines to enable them to feed into the national electricity grid.
Many of them are planned along the notoriously gusty West Coast, with proposed wind farms at various sites stretching from Darling, about 60km north of Cape Town, to Vredendal on the Olifants River about 300km north. There is a cluster of 10 wind farms proposed for the Saldanha/Vredenburg district.
There are eight proposed for the Garden Route, four around Swellendam and two near Mossel Bay; five proposed for the Overberg, three in Caledon and two in the Bredasdorp districts; and two in the Karoo in the Beaufort West and the Laingsburg districts. Two are planned near Hermanus and two in the Gouda district in the Boland.
The smallest wind farm is near Albertinia, with just six turbines, and the largest at Middleton, near Caledon, with a whopping 685 turbines. Those planned for the Karoo are also big, with 270 turbines proposed for one wind farm near Beaufort West and 400 turbines proposed for a wind farm on farmland between Laingsburg and the Northern Cape town of Sutherland.
The government has made a commitment to have 19.7 percent of new electricity generation come from wind power, both to cut the country’s enormous carbon footprint, caused mainly by coal-fired power stations, and to fulfil obligations to help combat global climate change. Spin-offs of wind energy are reduced water use, job creation, establishment of local industries and security of electricity supply.
Although South Africa has a small economy, its per capita carbon emissions are similar to those of many larger economies. While figures vary slightly with different sources, South Africans generate about 8.8 tons of carbon a person a year, compared to the UK’s per capita emissions of 8.9 tons, Austria’s 8.8, France’s 6 and China’s 4.9 tons.
At the Copenhagen talks in 2009, President Jacob Zuma committed South Africa to cutting greenhouse emissions by 34 percent less than “business as usual”. This will be done by 2020, with a 42 percent cut by 2025.
With the UN’s international climate change negotiations being held in Durban this year, the pressure is on for the government to show the country is taking concrete steps to do so. So far, renewable energy is almost non-existent in South Africa, with over 90 percent of electricity generated by coal, and 7 percent by nuclear. There are only seven wind turbines in the country, four in Darling and three in Klipheuwel on the West Coast.
But already there is public opposition to the wind farm proposals, with few communities wanting to live near the big turbines. A wind farm proposal at Britannia Bay has been put on hold because of public opposition by residents, who say they support wind energy wholeheartedly, but “not in my backyard”.
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