Investigations are well under way to establish a R1.2 billion wind farm for power generation outside Empangeni in northern KwaZulu-Natal.
The first and most critical element in developing the wind farm and establishing the project’s viability – the availability of sufficient wind – has been confirmed by developers Astrum Energy.
Florian Kroeber of Astrum Energy said initial testing had started a year ago on an existing cellphone mast. A taller mast had been erected six months ago for further tests.
“We have preliminary agreements in place with Eskom… Before the agreements are finalised, we have to prove the viability of the project, conduct a full environmental impact assessment (EIA) and have several other permits in place,” he said.
Kroeber said they had started on the EIA process and had had no negative feedback at the first public meeting last week.
“The only issue raised at the meeting was about business opportunities by local businesses. A second meeting will be held in about five months’ time,” he said.
Kroeber said they were looking to erect between 20 and 30 wind turbines on farmland north-east of Empangeni.
“Each of these turbines could generate between two to three megawatts of power… At full capacity, this would be sufficient to supply 1 800 households.
“With an 80MW rating, this could see Empangeni become a net exporter of electricity feeding into the existing Eskom grid,” he said.
Kroeber said several factors had been taken into account in selecting the site of the proposed wind farm.
“The first is the grid connection to high voltage lines, something the Richards Bay and Empangeni area have plenty of.
“Second is wind resource, which has proven to be sufficient to make the development viable. Land availability and infrastructure is another consideration, as is the chosen site’s proximity to the port of Richards Bay,” he said.
“The only land required is the footprint area for the base of the actual wind turbine, which is about 200m2… As the chosen site is under sugar cane, the impact on agricultural activities would be minimal and in fact would augment the landowners’ income. The site’s close location to Richards Bay means that the transport cost of bringing the large, fully imported components from the harbour to the site would not be too high.”
Planning for the development started 18 months ago and Kroeber said they hoped to break ground within the next 18 months.
“Considering that this is an infrastructure investment of around R1.2 billion, three years is a short period for planning,” he said.
“The total height of the wind turbines is up to 160m, which is quite high when one considers that the peak of Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium arch is around 106m. However, the visual impact will be minimal as the towers and the blades are thin and would be painted white to blend into the background.
“Noise impact would also be minimal as the standard set-back line of such wind turbines from residential units is 300m. Beyond 200-250m you won’t hear them.
“The wind turbines kick in at wind speeds of 2.5m per second and generation flattens out at 11m/s. It makes no difference to the generation if there is stronger wind.”
Kroeber said that if the plan went ahead, about 180 people would be employed in the 18-month construction phase and about 20 permanent positions would be created once the turbines began operation.
“A number of these positions would be for highly skilled people and we have skills transfer plans in place for local people,” he said.
Kroeber said Astrum Energy also had plans for social investment by allocating 10 percent of the wind farm’s shares to a community trust that would support projects in the area such as hospitals, libraries and schools.
“Further benefits for the region as a whole would be that projects that have been put on hold because of insufficient power supply to the area could now go ahead, creating far more secondary employment than the wind farm itself,” he said.
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