Three years after the German city of Bremen donated two wind turbines to help spark renewable energy initiatives in Durban, they have yet to be installed as the city tries to find the ideal place which will not be detrimental to birds or bats.
Stefan Reuter, director of the Bremen Overseas Research and Development Association, said the enviromental assessment would continue for a while yet, and the results should not be expected soon.
“Wind energy is a new topic in South Africa, so we won’t be rushing to see results, as it may even take a few more years to have the assessment completely done,” said Reuter.
The two 150kW turbines – donated in 2010 at an estimated cost of E50 000, including spare parts – were supposed to be up in time for the UN’s COP17 environmental conference in Durban in 2011.
The proposed site was the Bluff military base, but a colony of 400 Egyptian slit-faced bats brought operations to a halt.
Two other potential sites for the turbines were at Langafontein, near Inanda dam, and the University of KwaZulu-Natal Westville campus.
Craig Richards, project officer at eThekwini Energy Office, said the bird survey was expected to be completed yesterday, with the bat survey due to start soon.
“After the surveys are done, which are expected to be completed by the end of November, it may just happen that both sites that have been earmarked are not used in the end. In which case, other land – possibly private land – will be sought,” said Richards.
Birdlife Port Natal, which had been informed of the plan as an interested and affected party, said one misplaced turbine could prove detrimental to some of South Africa’s bird species.
The impact would be from birds colliding with the turning blades as well as displacement and disturbance from the turbines and associated infrastructure, the organisation warned.
It said bats could also suffer from barotrauma – physical damage to body tissues owing to the changes in air pressure created by the turning blades.
“Both the UKZN Westville campus and Langafontein are urbanised, transformed habitats, but both nevertheless boast high bird biodiversity,” said Arnia van Vuuren, Birdlife Port Natal’s vice chairwoman.
Van Vuuren said the campus area had a bird list of 250 species while Langafontein had 220. Both sites provided habitat to endemic species and migrants.
“Birds of prey, as top predators, are of particular concern as they are most likely to suffer from collision with the blades, and both sites host any number of raptors such as Wahlberg’s eagle, African harrier-hawk and Lanner falcon at Langafontein,” she said.
Another organisation, Bats KZN, has indicated that the sites have important bat populations.
Derek Morgan, manager of the energy office, said the turbines were in a warehouse in the city and would serve as a learning process to find suitable sites and manage wind power-generation projects.
“This is not about electricity generation, but about the decentralisation of energy – to have small energy installations around the city connected to the grid,” said Morgan.
Once the installations were completed, the turbines were expected to generate a minimum of 400 000kw a year, which was enough to power 80 households with an average consumption of 400kw a month.
The city’s residents are at present unable to generate their own renewable energy and have it fed to the grid.
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