Private estates by laws to stop people building solar panels

Visible 'pollution': different forms of renewable energy are rejected by neighbours, such as a residential estate or a private game park to a wind farm like this one in Tsitsikamma. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

Visible 'pollution': different forms of renewable energy are rejected by neighbours, such as a residential estate or a private game park to a wind farm like this one in Tsitsikamma. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

The special general meeting of the Meyersdal View homeowners’ association in late 2012 barely reached quorum. 

Some people counted as two votes, voicing their concerns as proxies for those who could not make it. 

But the 17 homeowners represented agreed on one thing — the passing of a new rule ensuring that people could not install renewable energy equipment without permission from everyone else. This is in keeping with the running of the Meyersdal View Nature Estate. The sprawling homes — wrapped around tennis courts and swimming pools — must abide by a 16-page document of “estate rules”.

These control issues from noise pollution (nothing past midnight on the weekend) to how owners must clean up “should animal excrement be deposited in a public area”.

The altered estate rules now include this section: “The installation of any renewable energy equipment or apparatus may not be undertaken, or commenced with, without the prior written approval of the board of directors of the Home Owners’ Association.”

Letters were sent to the one household, owned by the Galanis family, that featured this sort of equipment, demanding that it be removed. 

The black piping on their roof — used to heat water for their swimming pool — became the subject of many letters between the homeowners’ association and the family.

Unable to get a resolution, the association took the Galanises to court. 

The family argued that it had installed the pipes in 2008 and nobody had objected then. It also argued that forcing them to remove the pipes now — a costly process — was unfair. 

In a ruling last week, the high court agreed with the Galanises, dismissing the application with costs.

That ruling is part of a long-running battle between renewable energy projects and those opposed to them.

The Mail & Guardian has found dozens of similar cases, from homeowners’ associations to farmers, that have voiced their objections to renewable projects.

Most of these objections are at household level, with estates using their rules and regulations to enforce a single building style. 

Visual problems — bulky solar water heaters or the spinning of small wind turbines — are normally cited. 

The courts tend to rule on these in accordance with the rules of each estate, rather than by considering greater environmental concerns.

The Nimbies (not in my back yard) have had a sustained harmful effect on industrial-scale renewable projects across the country. 

Wind farms are the worst affected. A proposed 67 megawatt wind farm outside Grahamstown was stalled by game farmers who objected to the 27 turbines that would be put up. 

In written objections, they said these would create “visible pollution”. That would put off international tourists, who wanted to spend their holidays in “a natural, untouched environment”.

The objections are so common that the economics department at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University has crunched the numbers on how much it costs. 

Their case study was a proposed 15MW wind farm outside Jeffrey’s Bay. Its eight, 75m-tall turbines would be visible to about 3?000 homes in the seaside town and the team interviewed 180 of the homeowners.

Their findings, Measuring the Indirect Costs Associated with the Establishment of a Wind Farm, show that most objections were aesthetic. “This includes the potential deterioration of scenic views and the disturbing noise created by the rotation of their turbines.”

People believe they were bearing the aesthetic cost for a project — in this case for creating and supplying electricity — that benefited people elsewhere.

Bearing the objections in mind, the team ran the numbers on how much compensation people would accept to overlook their objection and allow development. 

They concluded that, for a once-off payment of R490 000, people would be “willing to accept a reduction in scenic view quality due to the construction of a wind farm”.

Sipho Kings


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