Wind farm: ‘Too close to World Heritage Site’

2019-04-25 06:00
African Black Eagle

African Black Eagle

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The Department of Environmental Affairs has given the go-ahead to a wind farm project that the Watson family wants to build on the summit of the Groot Winterhoek mountains near Uitenhage, before assessing strong differences of opinion from scientists worried about the threat to bird life, GroundUp reported.

The wind farm topic came up at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture when evidence leader Advocate Paul Pretorius SC was questioning Angelo Agrizzi. Agrizzi is the former chief operating officer of the Bosasa group of companies controlled by Gavin Watson.

Fin24 reported that Pretorius asked Agrizzi about the farms where the wind farm is planned and for confirmation that they are surrounded by conservation areas:

Agrizzi: Correct. It is known for the black eagles or I think the eagles that are in that area.

Pretorius: Yes, and we know that wind farms and bird life, particularly eagles, do not get on very well with one another?

Agrizzi: Correct.

Pretorius: So the establishment of a wind farm on this property is an environmentally sensitive issue?

Agrizzi: Very.

From the outset, the birdlife at the proposed 187.2MW, 47-turbine Inyanda-Roodeplaat wind farm was flagged as an issue of major environmental concern.

So last year’s decision by the DEA to grant environmental approval for the project may have been as much of a surprise to some officials in the department as it was to many of the objectors. When the decision was announced, these officials were still arranging an independent review of two studies into the impact of the wind farm on endangered and threatened bird species resident in the area. These species include the Black Harrier, Verreaux’s Eagle (Black Eagle) and Martial Eagle.

Acting Environmental Affairs Minister Lindiwe Zulu sent the decision back to the DEA for further consultation and re-evaluation. This time with the help of independent review specialists.

Zulu is acting in the place of Environmental Affairs Minister Nomvula Mokonyane, who is on compassionate leave. According to testimony at the Zondo Commission, Mokonyane was deeply involved in a corrupt relationship with the Bosasa group of companies headed by Gavin Watson.

Critical biodiversity area

There were five sets of appeals against this wind farm: from the Wilderness Foundation Africa; bird conservation group BirdLife South Africa; Eastern Cape environmental scientist and bird specialist Dr Paul Martin; Professor Gavin McLachlan, a Port Elizabeth architect and regional planner who has hiked in the Groot Winterhoek for the past 50 years; and Dr Werner Illenberger, a Port Elizabeth-based environmental consultant specialising in coastal issues.

Zulu noted that, according to the appellants, the proposed site and its surroundings had inherent conservation value as these were located in the near-pristine environment of the Groot Winterhoek Mountain and were between separate sections of Groendal Nature Reserve (Wilderness Areas) – “and thus very close to a World Heritage Site”.

Also, the site was within national and provincial Protected Area Expansion Strategy Focus Areas, and most of it had been identified as a Critical Biodiversity Area that included important habitat for a number of threatened species, including birds.

She wrote that the appellants had argued that issuing the Environmental Authorisation was fatally flawed because of the impact the project would have on birds, visually and on the “sense of place”.

However, she noted that the developer had stated in response that the appellants had “comprehensively failed to demonstrate” that the Environmental Impact Assessment process is “unlawful, unreasonable or procedurally unfair”.

“The conflicting conclusions necessitates an independent avifaunal study in order to ensure protection and conservation of avifauna,” said Zulu.

Mark Anderson from BirdLife South Africa said, “BirdLife South Africa supports renewable energy, but wind energy facilities can have negative environmental impacts.

“We therefore do not support the development of wind turbines in important conservation areas, or in other areas where they may present a risk to raptors and other threatened species.” - NEWS24

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