An ill wind blows in Paternoster

Residents of scenic fishing village Paternoster on the Cape West Coast are in high dudgeon over plans to erect hundreds of wind turbines as part of a scramble to meet the government’s renewable energy targets.

Environmental authorisation has been granted for 55 turbines at Paternoster, north of Saldanha Bay, and locals say they fear at least 200 more are in the pipeline.

The Paternoster project, called West Coast One, is the first of numerous commercial wind farms planned along the coastline from Darling to Namaqualand. It is being implemented by Moyeng Energy, jointly owned by Investec Bank and French multinational energy company GDF Suez.

Keri Harvey, an environmental writer who lives in Paternoster, said residents object to the giant turbines being placed in their backyard because of the noise they make, their visual impact and their effect on the natural and historical heritage.

“We have no problem with green energy, but why place the turbines in the oldest and most beautiful, traditional fishing village on the West Coast? The wind farms should be moved away from civilisation and tourist attractions,” she said.

Local businessman André Kleynhans said companies are buying land close to the coastal towns for wind farms with an eye to capitalising on renewable-energy reimbursements from the national energy regulator as well as internationally funded carbon offset programmes.

“We are being bullied into this. There’s lots of wind further inland, where farmers are struggling, and hundreds of kilometres of uninhabited coastline that would be more suitable,” Kleynhans said.

Paternoster’s ill winds are the first sign that government plans to increase renewable energy to 42% of new power—with wind providing 6%—and may lead to similar friction with the local green lobby as those occasioned by Europe’s “wind rush” in the past decade. Objections to the thudding vibration of the turbines and links to health problems such as headaches, anxiety and nausea have led to the United Kingdom, Denmark, Holland and Germany scaling down ambitions to combat fossil fuel-fired climate change by using wind energy.

Paternoster’s natural stone houses and village atmosphere draw tourists, who generate about R100-million a year and at least 500 jobs. It is also home to well-preserved neolithic heritage sites at Kasteelberg.

With nearby Brittania Bay and Vredenburg—where more wind farms are planned—the town forms part of the proposed West Coast Biosphere Reserve. The sleepy fishing villages attract retired people “who want to walk on quiet, safe beaches”, Kleynhans said.

Residents of Brittania Bay expressed concern about the impact of construction and access roads to a wind farm proposed by Terra Power Solutions. The planned site is designated a critical biodiversity area, with limestone strandveld and two other endangered endemic vegetation types.

They are worried the 100m-high wind towers will cause fatal collisions with endangered bird species found in the area, which include blue cranes, Ludwig bustards, greater flamingos, secretary birds and a variety of seabirds.

A 2002 study in Spain estimated that, on average, a single turbine tower kills 20 to 40 birds each year. Environmental consultancy Savannah, which facilitated authorisation for the Paternoster project, said urban and industrial landscapes have been identified by the Western Cape government as preferred zones for commercial wind-energy developments.

“Urban dwellers will have to become accustomed to the idea of new technologies influencing the urban landscape. Wind turbines can visually distinguish ‘town edges’ and be an effective buffer against urban sprawl,” government strategy states.

Savannah’s Shawn Johnson said at least five wind farms are planned in and around Saldanha Bay. Solar power is not an option because there is too much cloud.

The Paternoster authorisation from the national department of environmental affairs covers 55 turbines with a generating capacity of 138mW. It stipulates regular monitoring of noise and the impact on wildlife.

“We have had a number of public meetings in Paternoster and spoken to community leaders, but you will always get some people who say ‘not in my backyard’ and cry foul,” Johnson said.

 
Fiona Macleod

Fiona Macleod

Fiona Macleod is an environmental writer for the Mail & Guardian newspaper and editor of the M&G Greening the Future and Investing in the Future supplements. She is also editor of Lowveld Living magazine in Mpumalanga. An award-winning journalist, she was previously environmental editor of the M&G for 10 years and was awarded the Nick Steele award for environmental conservation. She is a former editor of Earthyear magazine, chief sub-editor and assistant editor of the M&G, editor-in-chief of HomeGrown magazines, managing editor of True Love and production editor of The Executive. She served terms on the judging panels of the SANParks Kudu Awards and The Green Trust Awards. She also worked as a freelance writer, editor and producer of several books, including Your Guide to Green Living, A Social Contract: The Way Forward and Fighting for Justice. Read more from Fiona Macleod

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