By Constant Hoogstad, the EWT’s Wildlife and Energy Programme Manager
The Endangered Wildlife Trust and Eskom Strategic Partnership has commenced with a 12 month monitoring program in order to determine environmental impacts associated with wind energy on the west coast of South Africa. The Eskom Sere Wind Energy Farm, situated near Lutzville, produces 100MW of clean energy at full capacity. Wind energy is 100% efficient, with no carbon emissions and the small footprint of turbine foundations results in minimal habitat destruction during construction. The impact of wind energy on the environment is minimal compared to fuel burning energies such as coal and, of course, no additional mining is required. Despite the lower environmental impact of wind energy it is still important to quantify risks to the environment as we move into an era of an increased uptake of renewable energy.
Surprisingly, one of the environmental threats associated with wind energy is simply driving to the facility and between turbines. With the development of new wind farms, new roads need to be constructed to gain access to each turbine, which poses new risks to wildlife. There is also an increase in traffic on access roads which could potentially increase collisions between vehicles and wildlife.
At Sere Wind Energy Farm roadkill surveys are conducted twice daily from Monday to Friday. This involves driving along the access road between 50km/h and 60Km/h while 4 observers look out for dead mammals, birds and reptiles in the road or on the verge. Collision incidents are recorded using a GPS and photographs are taken while flags are used to warn oncoming traffic. The data collected will also feed into the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s national roadkill database at the end of the project and provide insights into mortality trends as well as highlighting species of concern within the region.
This proactive approach of quantifying all potential environmental impacts associated with wind energy farms will allow for mitigations to be put in place, such as additional awareness campaigns, road signage in high risk areas and strict speed limits.
Other aspects being monitored at the Sere Wind Energy Farm include the new power line linking Sere to the grid, the impact of wind turbines on birds and bats as well as wildlife interactions with office buildings and substations.