Wind Farms: Frequently Asked Questions



How many wind farms are proposed?

Are wind farms dangerous to birds and bats?

Do wind turbines make a noise?

Is there any reason for allowing the construction of wind turbines?

What are “Carbon Credits”?

Surely all projects are controlled by Environmental Impact Assessments?

What is the international point of view?










How many wind farms are proposed?


There currently 6000 applications for the development of wind farms in the Western and Eastern Cape.

 

Each wind farm consists of between four and four hundred wind turbines. The turbines are generally rated at 2500 kW and each turbine is 156 m from ground to top of the blade tip. This implies that the turbine is taller than any building in the Western Cape, Pretoria or Durban – only the Carleton Centre and Ponte in Johannesburg are taller. The visual aspect of thousands of these turbines spread over the Western and Eastern Cape is horrific.


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Are wind farms dangerous to birds and bats?


Wind turbines kill birds. Even if the blades rotate at 5 revolutions per minute, the blade tip is travelling at 95 kmh. Under these conditions bird strikes are common. There are hundreds of reports of bird deaths as a result of wind turbines. Green activists dismiss these as being “insignificant” but one thing is not in dispute: wind turbines kill birds.


Wind turbines also kill bats. One would think that bats can avoid turbine blades but they can’t. A Green activist, in favour of wind turbines writes the following:


Bats, despite their ability to use sonar to avoid moving objects, are susceptible to “‘barotrauma”, a sense of disorientation caused by the rapid change of air pressure created by a turbines rotating blade. An unexpectedly high number of bat fatalities have been recorded across the US and Europe over the past decade.


It is a simple fact that 50% of the population of the South African national bird, the blue crane, is found in an area where 112 wind turbines are proposed (Vleesbaai).



In Denmark, where wind turbines generate 9% of electricity, wind turbines kill about 30,000 birds per year.


Professor Ray Jansen, Head of Department: Environmental, Water and Earth Science Faculty of Science Tshwane University of Technology, comments on a proposed wind farm development near Vleesbaai, South of the town of Mossel Bay: “Negative impacts from a development of this nature include (a) erection of permanent large structures in the form of a turbines changing the landscape and the habitat, (b) the noise hazard during the operation of the turbine effectively making large areas within and surrounding the wind farm “ecologically unavailable” for habitation, (c) the avian collision threat with turbine blades, (d) the collision threat with the associated power line cable corridors feeding off the wind farm and (e) electrocution events when perching on pylons or substations. All of these activities have been recorded in the available scientific literature as having a severe and negative impact on avian populations and communities”


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Do wind turbines make a noise?


Wind turbines create a low frequency noise which can be heard for many kilometres. This is confirmed by articles which have been published in the Journal of the American Society of Acoustics (JASA). The noise is perceived as more disturbing than traffic or train noise. The JASA paper (December 2011) states:


The present study shows that in comparison to other sources of noise, annoyance due to wind turbine noise is found at relatively low exposure levels….the expected percentage of annoyed persons indoors by wind turbine noise is higher than that due to other stationary sources of industrial noise and also increases faster with increasing noise levels.


Given the above (a) Visual destruction of the environment (b) Increased bird deaths (c) Noise


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Is there any reason for allowing the construction of wind turbines?


The reasons given by the Green activists are the following:


a) The turbines produce renewable energy and reduce dependence on fossil and nuclear fuels.

b) The wind turbines reduce carbon emissions, reducing global warming.


The point (a), that turbines produce renewable energy and reduce dependence on fossil and nuclear fuels is only partly true. The turbines do produce renewable energy, correct. However, wind turbines do not reduce dependence on fossil and nuclear fuels. For the days when the wind does not there’s no production of wind power and then the electrical load has to be met by coal and nuclear generation. Thus wind turbine construction will neither stop nor delay fossil fuel or nuclear power station construction due to the unreliability of wind as an energy source.


Wind turbines do reduce carbon emissions. But the reduction is offset by the fact that when the turbines are generating  one or two turbines at an Eskom (or other) coal station will have to be run as “spinning reserve” (and thus inefficiently producing carbon emissions) since the wind turbine generation will stop as soon as the weather changes and the wind stops.


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What are “Carbon Credits”?


The financing of wind turbines is interesting. Part of the finance derives from “carbon credits”. A carbon credit is a generic term for any tradable certificate or permit representing the right to emit one tonne of carbon dioxide or the mass of another greenhouse gas with a carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e) of one tonne of carbon dioxide. The “carbon credit” system works like this: let’s say that a factory (not in South Africa) produces 10 000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, ozone and nitrous oxides a year. The local government orders the factory to limit the emissions to, say, 5000 tonnes per year.  Instead, the factory buys 5000 carbon credits per year and just keeps on polluting.  The carbon credits could come from a wind farm in the Western or Eastern Cape where operating a 3 MW wind turbine for about 2500 hours per year will result in the creation of  about 84 000 carbon credits which can be sold….   thus, the result of this system is not that the creation of a wind farm prevents pollution – rather, by a cash payment per month, the polluting factories in other countries can continue to pollute and the Western and Eastern Cape have to bear the visual destruction of a centuries old beautiful environment to allow polluters to continue polluting.


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Surely all projects are controlled by Environmental Impact Assessments?


Since these sorts of projects have to pass through an environmental impact assessment (EIA) the environmental practitioners, the provincial and national department of the environmental affairs it would be expected that they would have realized the disadvantages of wind farms. Not so. Many of the wind farm sites have been approved. Some EIA’s are flawed, many of them grossly so. In many cases where Interested and Affected Parties (IAP’s) have raised relevant objections (i.e about the effect of a forest of  156 m / 500 ft towers on civil and military aviation, the destruction of the sense of place of game reserves) the EIA response is merely “This point is noted” or “see response above”. The simple fact is that 30 m cell phone towers are required to be disguised (not too well, but adequately) as trees whereas wind turbines are not disguised at all. Try this experiment: drive out of Cape Town over De Waal drive. One has sight of the two chimneys of Athlone Power station. Imagine them half again as high: this is the height of a wind turbine.


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What is the international point of view?


What about: “well, if it’s good enough for Europe and the UK and USA it’s good enough for South Africa”. Not all is not well in these countries: Businessman Donald Trump told the Scottish parliament:” Your pristine countryside and coastlines will forever be destroyed and Scotland will go broke.”


British Prime minister, David Cameron, has said “Wind farms built across the British countryside have been “over subsidized and wasteful of public money”,


Referring to thousands of abandoned wind turbines littered the landscape of wind energy's California 'big three' locations which include Altamont Pass, Tehachapin and San Gorgonio, considered among the world's best wind sites, Andrew Walden of the American Thinker writes: "In the best wind spots on earth, over 14,000 turbines were simply abandoned. Spinning, post-industrial junk which generates nothing but bird kills."


In Hawaii 27-year-old Kamaoa Wind Farm has 100 turbines, rusting and idle since the economics of wind farms failed to support the promises.


We have our own decisions to make. Those that support wind farms talk often about “global warming” and “saving the planet” but the reality is that they are motivated by large financial rewards as has happened world wide where investors have grown rich on subsidies for renewable energy. We have to ask ourselves, in the most beautiful countryside in the world, do we really want to erect 2500 towers each 156 m high and destroy the visual beauty of the area for ever? Is it worth it? With reliable solar power in a sunny country, is it even necessary?

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