Blow­ing in the wind

Finweek English Edition - - INSIGHT -

The road head­ing from Port El­iz­a­beth past the surfer’s par­adise of Jef­freys Bay and on­wards along the pic­turesque Gar­den Route is eas­ily among the most scenic world­wide. Ham­lets open up to un­du­lat­ing hills and shady forests with deep ravines tra­versed by mas­sive con­crete feats of en­gi­neer­ing.

What has changed in re­cent years, though, is that now the land­scape is also dot­ted with some very fu­tur­is­tic-look­ing wind tur­bines reach­ing up to 80m high with gi­ant, ro­tat­ing blades. It is a change to the land­scape which has be­come a thorny is­sue, split­ting even the tight-knit en­vi­ron­men­tal fra­ter­nity.

In de­vel­oped coun­tries, such as the UK, across Europe and over the At­lantic in the US, wind farms are com­mon oc­cur­rences. So much so that their in­vestors – and the com­pa­nies which build the gi­ant tur­bines – are now look­ing to de­vel­op­ing coun­tries to set-up shop.

To some a wind farm is a blight on the hori­zon, caus­ing vis­ual pol­lu­tion and ru­in­ing the nat­u­ral land­scape. But to pro­po­nents of the de­vel­op­ments wind farms rep­re­sent a chang­ing world; a world where ar­chaic and pol­lut­ing coal­fired power sta­tions, com­plete with their plumes of black smoke, must be re­placed with clean en­ergy al­ter­na­tives such as wind and so­lar power.

The East­ern Cape has be­come a hotspot for wind farms, with about 80% of the 15-plus ma­jor de­vel­op­ments coun­try­wide lo­cated within the prov­ince. Trucks warn­ing of ‘ab­nor­mal loads’ fer­ry­ing pieces of the gi­ant tur­bines to sites through­out the re­gion from the ports they have been shipped into have be­come com­mon­place.

The lat­est oper­a­tion to off icially launch in the re­gion also hap­pens to be the largest wind power gen­er­a­tion fa­cil­ity coun­try­wide, and through­out Africa for that mat­ter. The brag­ging rights of hav­ing the largest wind gen­er­a­tion fa­cil­ity in Africa be­longs to the in­vestors of the 138MW, 60-tur­bine Jef­freys Bay Wind Farm for about an­other six months when 140MW Cook­house Wind Farm to the north of the prov­ince comes on stream.

In a pre­pared state­ment handed to the me­dia at the launch, Mark Pickering, gen­eral man­ager of the Jef­freys Bay Wind Farm, said: “In a coun­try strug­gling to meet its es­ca­lat­ing de­mands for elec­tric­ity, we are proud to be con­tribut­ing around 460 000 megawatt hours [MWh] per year of elec­tri­cal en­ergy to the na­tional grid.”

This would power about 100 000 house­holds, he added.

“It’s re­mark­able,” continues the state­ment, “to con­sider that by the end of this year the coun­try will have more than 400 tur­bines reach­ing into the sky, all help­ing to re­duce the use of fos­sil fu­els and pre­cious wa­ter in meet­ing the coun­try’s en­ergy re­quire­ments”.

But it was ahead of the off icious rib­bon-cut­ting cer­e­mony that jour­nal­ists were able to have a frank dis­cus­sion about the oper­a­tion and the global trends of re­new­able en­ergy projects with Pickering and his bosses, ma­jor in­vestors in the project Glo­beleq (50.1% share­hold­ing), rep­re­sented by CEO Mikael Karls­son, and Main­stream Re­new­able Power (8.9% shares), rep­re­sented by CEO Ed­die O’Con­ner.

The ad­van­tage of hav­ing banks and global in­sti­tu­tions clam­our to set up wind farms in South Africa is com­pe­ti­tion. Ac­cord­ing to O’Con­ner, the com­pe­ti­tion has forced the price of wind power down in re­cent years to an aver­age of 76c/unit.

This, he said, was in stark con­trast to the cost per unit of power com­ing from coal-f ired power sta­tions be­ing com­mis­sioned by Eskom, com­ing in at 99c

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