A wind farm project on the edge of the Addo Elephant National Park could cripple the park’s aerial anti-poacher spotter regime and undercut eco-tourism as an economic powerhouse in the Eastern Cape.
This is according to scientists and conservationists after the Bayview Wind Farm proposal was approved by the department of forestry, fisheries and the environment.
But concerned parties are appealing against the decision, warning that the low-frequency drone from the wind farm could cause stress in the park’s flagship elephant herds and interfere with their ability to communicate.
Other concerns include the failure of the initial assessment to get formal comment from SANParks and the siting of the wind farm within the recognised 10km buffer zone contained in the national park planning policy.
Nelson Mandela University Centre for African Ecology director Prof Graham Kerley said a major concern was the sound from the turbines.
“The vibration of the turbines causes a low-frequency drone,” he said.
“Elephants communicate using the same low-frequency sound through the air and the ground.
“They are highly social animals and it is estimated they can communicate with each other over a distance of up to 20km. So, firstly, the concern is that the turbine noise will block the elephants from communicating with each other and, secondly, if the elephants are bombarded with this unnatural sound, that it will cause them stress, and we do not know what their reaction will be.”
He said while alternate energy was needed, the huge value of the elephants through tourism and all the problems with the chosen site had to be weighed against this need.
“How far away from the park would be acceptable?
“Start at 20km but – until the science is done and the findings demonstrate that there is not effect, or it is minor – it is not appropriate to put wind farms near to protected areas which have elephants.”
Kerley said it would be cynical to suggest that the jumbos could simply move to the other side of the park.
“That, in turn, would likely have an ecological and tourism impact.
“Furthermore, society needs a new, moral relationship with nature.
“We cannot keep pushing animals and biodiversity ou the way because it is not convenient.”
He said that besides elephants, a number of other species, including dung beetles, hares and moles, also communicated by low-frequency sound.
“We have no idea what the impact of this wind farm on this site would have on any of those species. The global trend post-Covid-19 is to increase the value of conservation investments like the Addo elephan park, not to trash them.
“It would be bizarre if we went this route.”
Forestry and fisheries department spokesperson Alby Modise confirmed on Wednesday that the minister, Barbara Creecy, had received appeals against the March 23 authorisation granted to the project.
“The administration of the appeals is under way,” Modise said. “The minister’s responses are due on or before June 14.”
According to the Coastal & Environmental Services final amended environmental impact report, the Bayview Wind Farm will construct a maximum 40 wind turbines with a maximum net generating capacity of 140MW.
According to the front page of the report, the wind farm site is “near Gqeberha”.
Only on page 21 does it note in a small block: “The Bayview Wind Farm will be situated … within a Critical Biodiversity Area … within 10km of the Addo Elephant National Park.”
The report says each turbine will be a maximum 225m high, including the 150m tower and the 75m propeller blades.
The site earmarked for the development includes sections of three farms – Olifant’s Kop, Ebb & Vloed and Stein’s Valley.
Responding to questions, Dr Alan Carter of Coastal & Environmental Services, project leader on the Bayview report, said the site was west-southwest of the southern section of the Addo park.
The closest turbine is about 5.5km from the park.”
The report says the company driving the development is Bayview Wind Power and lists a Johannesburg address and Michael Steiner as the contact person.
Efforts were made to contact Steiner, who is listed on the internet as a representative of the African office of French energy multinational Engie, and of Bayview Wind Power, but he could not be reached.
Carter said on Wednesday he had sent a contact request on behalf of The Herald to Steiner but had received no response.
Rosalie Evens, part of Carter’s team, said on Friday she too had forwarded all The Herald’s requests for contacts to the developer but no response had been forthcoming.
The Herald called Engie’s Southern African office in Woodmead in Johannesburg on Thursday but was tole Steiner had relocated.
A message was left for a member of the Bayview development team to call but no response was received.
There was also no answer from the company’s landline on Friday.
Efforts were also made to reach Seshni Naidoo, who is listed as a co-director of Bayview Wind Power with Steiner, but she could not be