Planned wind farms could en­dan­ger birds

Lesotho Times - - Business -

CAPE TOWN — Le­sotho’s pro­posed first wind farms could put the south­ern Africa na­tion’s bearded vul­ture pop­u­la­tion at risk of col­li­sion with tur­bines if the pro­ject’s cur­rent sites are main­tained, a study sug­gests.

Le­sotho is plan­ning its first ever largescale wind farms de­vel­op­ments, with two wind farms con­sist­ing of 42 and 100 tur­bines re­spec­tively pro­posed, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment from the Percy Fitz­patrick In­sti­tute of African Or­nithol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Cape Town (UCT) in South Africa.

Longer-term plans are to set up mul­ti­ple wind farms through­out the Le­sotho high­lands, with a goal of pro­duc­ing about 6,000 megawatts from up to 4,000 tur­bines, adds the state­ment.

The bearded vul­ture Gy­pae­tus bar­ba­tus, faces ex­tinc­tion in the south­ern Africa re­gion, with only about 109 breed­ing pairs con­firmed to be alive, their pop­u­la­tion hav­ing de­clined by more than 30 per cent in the past five decades, ac­cord­ing to the Bri­tish Eco­log­i­cal So­ci­ety.

Re­searchers from Scot­land and South Africa are hop­ing that the map will help wind farm de­vel­op­ers in Le­sotho and sur­round­ing South African prov­inces site tur­bines away from ar­eas used by bearded vul­tures.

The map is part of a study pub­lished on 24 June in Jour­nal of Ap­plied Ecol­ogy.

Ac­cord­ing to the study, 21 bearded vul­tures of dif­fer­ent ages were fit­ted with so­lar-pow­ered GPS (Global Po­si­tion­ing Sys­tem) satel­lite tags from 2009 to 2013 and data col­lected in Le­sotho were used to cre­ate mod­els. The mod­els were fur­ther re­fined by in­cor­po­rat­ing fly­ing heights at risk of col­li­sion to pre­dict ar­eas prone to im­pact with wind tur­bines.

The tags gen­er­ated data, log­ging the vul­tures’ lo­ca­tion, al­ti­tude and speed ev­ery hour dur­ing day­light, lead­ing to the de­vel­op­ment of dif­fer­ent mod­els for birds of dif­fer­ent ages.

“The cur­rent pro­posed ar­eas … have the

po­ten­tial to cause the most dam­age to the [vul­ture] pop­u­la­tion through col­li­sions,” the re­searchers write in the jour­nal. “Al­ti­tudes of fixes of adults and non-adults showed that they spent 55 per cent and 66 per cent of their time, re­spec­tively, at heights that placed them at risk of col­li­sion.”

Ar­jun Amar, co-au­thor of the study and a se­nior lec­turer at the South Africa-based Percy Fitz­patrick In­sti­tute of African Or­nithol­ogy, UCT, tells Scidev.net: “We don’t want to stand in the way of de­vel­op­ment, but [we] hope the maps will be used to pro­mote sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment,”

Re­search at wind farms in Spain and North Amer­ica had shown that vul­tures were vul­ner­a­ble to the ro­tat­ing blades of tur­bines, so it was im­por­tant for energy tech­nolo­gies to be de­ployed with proper plan­ning, de­sign and risk as­sess­ment, Amar ex­plains.

Sa­man­tha Ral­ston-pa­ton, birds and re­new­able energy man­ager at Birdlife South Africa, who was not in­volved in the study, adds: “It is a great study and re­ally im­por­tant work.” Ral­ston-pa­ton notes that the study has tried to ad­dress en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists con­cerns on the suit­abil­ity of the Le­sotho high­lands for de­vel­op­ing wind energy.

Ac­cord­ing to Ral­ston-pa­ton, the data could con­vince the Le­sotho gov­ern­ment, wind energy de­vel­op­ers and fi­nanciers to care­fully con­sider the avail­able op­tions in terms of where best to place re­new­able energy in­fra­struc­ture, and what tech­nol­ogy is best for the en­vi­ron­ment.

“We en­cour­age the de­vel­op­ment of re­new­able energy, but it must be en­vi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able,” Ral­ston-pa­ton adds.

— Scidev.net.

LE­SOTHO is a prime lo­ca­tion for wind energy pro­duc­tion be­cause of its el­e­va­tion.

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