The Blue Horizon Bay community is fiercely opposing the wind farm that a developer wants to build on a hill just outside this tranquil coastal village. About 130 people packed the village hall on Monday night to voice their concerns about a range of issues, from the visual intrusion of the nine towering turbines – each 157.5m high, with their giant blades turning on a 113m arc – to the negative impact of the noise they make on human health, and the heavy kills they say will be inflicted on bat and bird populations.
The impact on tourism, road infrastructure and property values were also raised, as well as the danger to planes over-flying the area. The turbines themselves will have a light on top but the blades will be unlit, the meeting heard, posing a serious collision threat.
Related to this issue, the standard safety measure for wind farms is that they should not be built closer than 35kms to any aerodrome – but the Progress Aerodrome is just 11.08kms away, community representatives argued.
Residents who attended the meeting signed a petition, and organisers were yesterday (February 28 2012) collating another 30-odd e-mails of support from villagers who are away at present.
The petition will be submitted on Friday in Port Elizabeth to the national energy regulator, as part of the group’s scheduled appeal to that authority, community representive Peet Vermaak said yesterday.
The developer, Metrowind, has already applied to the regulator for the requisite license to produce electricity. But the community does not believe this should even be considered until their appeals to the environment minister and the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality have been addressed, he said.
Another community representative, Dr Henk Botha (correct), said many of their members support the drive to find alternative energy solutions.
“But the Blue Horizon Bay site is completely unsuitable. That is what we are saying.”
One of the key concerns is the proximity of the site to their homes, with just 712m between turbine number three and the nearest dwelling, he said. Related to this issue is the well documented deep “thrumming” noise generated as the blades turn through the air.
Even the expert used by the municipality when the project was first initiated had noted this as a problem, he said.
“The municipality’s expert reported that the property was too small to operate without exceeding noise-rating levels in Blue Horizon Bay. He said noise mitigation procedures would need to be implemented in terms of the noise control regulations, to ensure that the noise “does not exceed the night-time 35dBA level by more than 6dBA.
“He conceded that, ‘there appears to be no practical means of achieving this’.”
The same expert stated further that even if the number of turbines was reduced to four, noise levels “would still not be compliant with noise control regulations”, Botha noted.
“In line with the concerns raised by the expert consultant, the EIA recommends a a minimum of 900m away from homes.
“Not only is that now being ignored, but no cognisance is being taken of the way this issue is being debated overseas.”
One of the most prominent of these debates is in the UK where a proposal to legislate a 3km minimum buffer is presently before the House of Lords.
The Blue Horizon Bay meeting also focused on research done by the Society on Wind Vigilance, on the establishment of a wind farm at Makara, in New Zealand. The initiation of the project resulted in the Wellington city council receiving 906 noise complaints.
These complaints referred to “constant thrumming…. sleep deprivation…. headaches…. nausea and depression” and came from households as far as 2200m away from the turbines, Botha noted.
“That wind farm was using 2.3MW turbines – smaller than the 3MW turbines proposed for this site. The minimum buffer was also much wider than the 712m proposed here.”
The Bluewater Bay residents are further arguing that their constitutional rights have been violated as they were not properly consulted about the project.
They argue that having been first alerted on September 15 last year, they then met with the developer on October 10 – but were told that the environmental authorisation had already been obtained from the national environment department and all they could do was seek to ensure implementation of the conditions.
Opposition to the project has been bubbling under since then with letters sent off to various authorities, but none have responded, Vermaak said.
The community also highlighted the finding in the EIA that the Blue Horizon site achieved a ranking of just 2 on the threat scale to birds and bats, with 1 being “unacceptable” and 5 “most acceptable”.
Botha said this was of great concern considering the plentiful bird and bat populations in the area. These species are so plentiful because of the surrounding mosaic of nature reserves, the management of the village as a conservancy and the identification of the area as a Critical Biodiversity Area, he said.
“The municipality’s expert indicated in his report that nearly every wind facility in North America has recorded bat deaths, some thousands per year.
“This was noted by the expert consultant – but once again ignored by the developer, in seeking to focus on this site.”
Although the turbine blades do kill bats directly, the sudden drop in pressure caused by the blades as they turn causes most deaths, he noted.
“These sudden pressure changes cause rapid expansion of the lungs of bats and bursting of the fine capillaries around the edges of the lungs, which kills the bats.”
The meeting was held spell-bound by footage shown giant sections of a turbine and blades being manouvered along a narrow road, on the back of a pantechnicon.
With a single narrow thoroughfare in and out of Blue Horizon Bay, lined by bush and steep drop-offs in places, this will be exactly the scenario if not worse if the project is approved, Botha warned.
“Our conservative estimate is that with abnormal truck-loads operating twice a week, it will still take 92 weeks. And during that time the road will be totally closed. How will we be able to get through in an emergency? We will be trapped like rats.”