The wind energy industry in South Africa does not have does not have a long enough track record to have earned the green label, says a local bat expert.
“If it’s going to be killing bats and birds by their thousands, and we consider the services that these animals provide for the environment, then we really have to question how green is wind energy,” said UCT bat researcher, Dr David Jacobs.
“The important thing is that we are operating with very little knowledge and we have to counter the idea that wind energy has been green,” he told News24.
According to Jacobs not enough long-term studies have been done on wind farms in South Africa although the government does make provision in the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process.
EIA’s are divided into two processes, pre-construction and post-construction.
Much emphasis is placed on pre-construction in order to begin development and Jacobs says “it’s very important that post-construction assessment is done as well, because that’s when we’ll be able to determine how green wind energy is”.
A recent study published in the journal BioSience showed that 600 000 bats were killed by wind turbines in the US in 2012.
The study also suggests that the figure may be 50% higher and that some areas of the country might experience much higher bat fatality rates at wind energy facilities than others.
A one-week study carried out at the Darling site in the Western Cape, with its four turbines; found that one bat had been killed. Another assessment done at Koega in the Eastern Cape, with one turbine, found that five bats had been killed.
According to Jacobs it is a matter of scale, the US has an estimated 20 000 wind turbines compared to less than ten in South Africa.
South Africa also has a higher number of bats and bat species than the US which could mean that an expansion of wind energy projects could result in exponentially higher bat fatalities.
The government’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement (REIPPP) programme aims to install 300-400 turbines per year up to 2020.
Leaders in the wind energy industry do not share the view that turbines are a significant threat to birds and bats.
“History points to the fact that wind turbines kill few birds or bats, significantly less than say motor vehicles, buildings or domestic cats,” said Frank Spencer, CEO and renewable energy engineer at Emergent Energy.
“It is important that wind farms are not placed in areas where there is a high density of birds or bats, because the number of incidents will go up,” he told News24 by email.
According to Spencer denying wind energy the ‘green’ status is unfair because “we have international experience with wind turbines, and South Africa is applying best practices of the world to their wind projects”.
“If green is producing a carbon free energy source, with minimal environmental impact, then wind is green.”
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