Wind farm poses a threat to the birds and beauty of the Karoo

A proposed wind farm on the Sneeuberg will imperil the iconic endangered blue crane, many bird species and the entire local ecosystem, warns the Nama Karoo Foundation’s Marina Beal.

A 93 000ha wind energy facility (WEF) has been planned for the Sneeuberg mountain range near Victoria West in the Karoo. It is the contention of the Nama Karoo Foundation (NKF) that the project makes no provision for the long-term sustainability of the environment, nor has any lasting benefit for those living in the vicinity.

To begin with, the project is located on the majestic mountain peaks of the southern Great Escarpment, one of the oldest land surfaces on earth and of great natural beauty. From a geological and aesthetic point of view, this development would blight the area, irreversibly harming the Karoo’s unique identity.

Secondly, the site of the proposed WEF is home to the largest population of the endangered blue crane still found in its natural habitat. The NKF has been studying the impact of power lines on these birds in the area since 2004. Hundreds of carcasses have been collected from just six Eskom spans since 2008. The 65km stretch of power lines that the project would add to this wilderness area would spell death for huge numbers of blue crane, South Africa’s national bird.

It would equally endanger raptors, bustards, flamingoes, storks, secretary birds, geese, ducks, spoonbills and other species.
Eskom has conceded that power lines kill more blue cranes here than elsewhere because of their population density and the unique mountain habitat.

International obligations
NKF does not believe this project will be approved, because the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) is a signatory to international agreements protecting endangered species, and is obliged to adhere to them. We therefore have to ask how a cumulative impact study could have been concluded when WEFs are such a recent introduction to South Africa. And the Department of Minerals and Energy reportedly has more than 600 existing applications.

The NKF is strongly opposed to post-construction monitoring or mitigation. Instead, advantage should be taken of existing pre-construction monitoring mechanisms from other WEFs. There is also concern about the link between WEF developments and fracking. This is partly because once stakeholders rezone their land-use from agriculture to minerals and energy, the doors are open for other mining activity.

Until thorough environmental impact assessments have been completed, there is no way of knowing where the best locations for the turbines would be. Ominously, however, some landowners have already been told how many turbines they can expect on their properties.

Tourism to the area, including blue crane viewing, hunting, hiking, and heritage tours, is growing, leading to farm stays, restaurants and business opportunities, all of which create jobs. This is the only sustainable way forward and is in direct contrast to what the WEF development will bring. Visitors come to the area for an authentic African experience; without birds there will be no birding tourists, and artists will not pay to paint a turbinised landscape.

The WEF will negatively affect agriculture. Workers such as sheep shearers will be marginalised due to loss of income as sheep numbers decline. Property values will suffer.

Physical effects
The environmental harm of the proposed WEF is not restricted to birds flying into blades, or the ugliness of turbines in a wilderness setting. Other possible affects include the following:

  • Disturbance of mountain mist: The Karoo is renowned for its succulent heritage. It is feared that the turbulence caused by the blades will interfere with the mist development on which many mountain plants depend for moisture. A better understanding of the escarpment’s climate is needed.
  • Noise and electricity: Wind turbines produce audible and low-frequency infrasound. International reports suggest that the noise and stray voltage (dirty energy) from wind turbines can be harmful to livestock and wildlife.
  • Harmful vibrations: Ground vibrations can affect animals’ bone metabolism, while unusual sounds impede their growth. In Wisconsin in the USA, residents reported that hummingbirds, nesting swallows and other wildlife disappeared after the introduction of wind turbines. Turbines even reportedly cause miscarriages in animals. What would be the implications for pregnant women? 

The wind industry has been producing misleading and even fraudulent documents to hide the increasing mortality rate,
and governments have been shielding them. No scientific testing has been undertaken to determine that turbines are safe. – Roelof Bezuidenhout

Email Marina Beal at [email protected] or phone 060 334 1648.