Death-free wind farms

Innovations in renewables award Winner: Endangered Wildlife Trust wildlife & energy programme

The Johannesburg-based Endangered Wildlife Trust has taken steps to guide local wind energy farms on how to avoid the negative impacts of this growing renewable energy industry.

Andrew Pearson, a senior field officer with the trust’s wildlife and energy programme, said there were only eight operational wind turbines used to create energy in South Africa.

“The largest group of turbines comprises four at a wind farm in Darling. The commercial wind farms that will soon be coming to South Africa may have up to 80 or more turbines.

“Very few mortality studies have been conducted at the existing turbines, so at this point we have to learn from international studies. They have found numerous mortalities, especially of raptors, at some wind energy facilities.”

International examples showed that the correct placement of wind farms was vital to reduce impacts, he said. “This is why it is so important to monitor a site for at least 12 months before construction to determine bird movement and behaviour.”

His programme has partnered with Birdlife South Africa to develop an avian wind farm sensitivity map for South Africa to indicate localities that contain species believed to be sensitive to wind farm developments. It can be downloaded from the internet as an aid for developers during the early site selection phase.

“Newer technology requires fewer turbines for the same energy output and usually results in fewer collisions. The older technologies seem to have bigger impacts,” he said.

The programme is also working closely with the South African Wind Energy Association to draft guidelines for the low-impact development of wind energy facilities.

Establishing wind farms has ­created a need to build local capacity for monitoring wind farm sites. Pearson said the wildlife and energy programme was building capacity and developing skills by hosting international experts who informed observers and bird specialists. “If the wind energy industry grows sustainably without excessively killing birds and bats, it will have uncalculated positive social spin-offs and economic benefits,” he said.

The Greening judges praised the programme as “a necessary intervention” in the growing renewable energy sector. “It is innovative in that they have taken the initiative and not just campaigned against wind farms.”

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