CSIR – higher and higher

By: Terry Mackenzie-Hoy

Published: 17 Feb 12

This is the fourth article about the proposed wind farms in the Western Cape. After this one, I’ll stop. I promise.

The story so far is: the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has completed an environmental-impact assessment (EIA) which evaluates the impact of putting up 70 wind turbines along the route to the Garden Route. What is proposed is the establishment of four commercial wind energy facilities near the towns of Swellendam, Heidelberg, Albertinia and Mossel Bay, in the Western Cape. The project would consist of about 70 turbines of up to 3 MW capacity each. The total combined generation capacity would be about 210 MW.

These turbines are massive – they have a hub height of 60 m to 100 m and a blade diameter of between 70 m and 112 m. The distance from the ground to the top of the blade will be between 95 m and 156 m. For the 95 m turbines, each turbine plus blades will be taller than all but 35 buildings in the whole of South Africa. The 156 m turbines will only be topped by the Carlton Centre and Ponte, in Johannesburg, and will be taller than any building in Cape Town, Pretoria or Durban.

The real reason why developers want to stuff up the visual aspects of the Cape is not to provide green power – it is to maintain the right of the US to pollute. It is all about carbon credits. A carbon credit is created when the equivalent of one ton of carbon dioxide is prevented from entering the atmosphere. Each carbon credit has a monetary value, depending on the type and origin of the emission reduction produced. Each carbon credit can be traded on the open market, with the current international spot rates averaging R120/t.

Now, if a US organisation has to reduce its emissions of carbon dioxide by, say, 200 t/t, then all that has to be done is to erect wind turbines in the Western Cape, which supposedly prevent Eskom from emitting a few tons of greenhouse gases which allows the US to just continue polluting after paying the wind turbine operator.

So, effectively, we are selling the US the right to continue polluting by erecting visually appalling wind turbines. Let me summarise the earlier columns I wrote on this subject with answers to some frequently asked questions.

Q: Surely, it is a good idea to generate green power in the Western Cape, as this would reduce greenhouse gases.

A: It would be a good idea if the power was available as needed. But it’s not – when the wind fails, so does the power, and so the Eskom system still has to be built to accommodate the load when the wind is not blowing. Worse, the Eskom units will have to run as spinning reserve to pick up when the wind drops. Thus, they may be idling at a point of low efficiency when running as spinning reserve so the greenhouse-gas emissions upcountry will be worse than normal.

Q: Won’t the wind turbines reduce reliance on Koeberg?

A: The power supply in the Western Cape is no longer reliant on Koeberg – two gas turbine stations and a new power line have re-enforced the system.

Q: What harm can the turbines do?

A: They will create a huge visual impact, they will create a high noise environment, they are a danger to birds, especially blue cranes, and the power lines needed to route power from them to the network will result in further visual destruction of the environment.

And, finally . . . the CSIR. There is something particularly loathsome about organisations that are government funded taking on work which is normally done by the private sector. Bearing no financial risk, they do work better done by others. The CSIR was created for research, and not to do EIAs. The council has no mandate to do this. I have touched on the mistakes it has made in this particular EIA but the full list would cover pages. Others and I have dined out on the errors in the docu- ments. The CSIR should just get out of the EIA business and stay out – right out.