Toothless Guidelines

Birdlife SA and Endangered Wildlife Trust constructed among others a bird-versus-Industrial-Wind-Farm sensitivity map, that will guide developers where to place Industrial Wind Farms to avoid negative impact on bird populations. This must have come as a release for nature lovers who are aware that birds and wind turbines do not go well together. Now we can sleep peacefully again. But, can we really?

Before reading any further I would like to point at a media release (3 August 2012):

Investec and BirdLife South Africa partner in pursuit of responsible renewable energy development

“Investec Capital Markets and BirdLife South Africa announce the appointment of a Birds and Renewable Energy Manager to actively participate in the renewable energy sector, with effect from 1 August 2012. This unique position is being sponsored by Investec Capital Markets and will have the overarching focus of minimising the impact of renewable energy developments on birds and their habitats.”

Download here the media release

Investec proudly presents on its website: “We are one of the leading providers of subordinated and mezzanine finance to renewable energy projects.

The whole notion of WEF investors and developers funding EIA’s, being able to freely choose their own specialists and now having the ability to bankroll key positions within NGO’s like Birdlife is very conflicted and makes the unbiased value of the bird sensitivity map and bird assessment studies questionable.

But let say the ornithologist did a solid impartial job creating the map, the story does not end here.

At the beginning of 2012 the Bird Sensitivity Map was being finalized,  just at the time that the Department of Energy published the first list of the recommended preferred Independent Power Producer bidders for the private renewable energy sector.

All environmental assessment studies for the first batch of applications were done without the guidance of the bird map. Selected  for the wind industry in the first batch are eight preferred bidders,  good for 634 MW of capacity.

The environmental assessment studies for the second batch had also already been finalized before the map was ready.  Seven wind projects, with a combined allocation of 562.5MW, are now selected as preferred bidders. Is it possible to believe that an ornithologist doing an bird impact assessment study for a particular wind farm during the period that the bird sensitivity map was being constructed had no knowledge of the joint effort of many others in the same  profession, and yet failed to seek advice ?

Sadly I had to read in the bird impact assessment study done for Oyster Bay (Wind Farm), Eastern Cape:

“Cumulative impacts: It is impossible to say at this stage what the cumulative impact of all the proposed wind developments will be on birds, firstly because there is no baseline to measure it against, and secondly because the extent of actual impacts will only become known once a few Wind Farms are developed.”

The bird sensitivity map guidelines are exactly for these reasons drafted. Considering the many years of  professional bird monitoring experience obtained  from hundreds of operating wind farms worldwide, one should be able to estimate the impacts on wildlife. It is known very well which bird species are particular vulnerable to collision and habitat loss. Raptors, birds of prey and big terrestrial birds from different continents, do not differ much in hunting, foraging and roosting behavior. Physical capabilities such as lateral eyesight, and limited maneuverability and speeds in flight, to name a few, are similar.

Toothless Guidelines

The introduction states: ‘The Bird Sensitivity  Map helps those planning Wind Farms to ensure their construction does not unnecessarily endanger birds’.

The disclaimer states:

  • The sensitivity map does not replace the EIA or pre- and post-construction monitoring processes. At most, the map provides some guidance as to the level of monitoring that should be done.
  • The map does not indicate “No-Go” zones. Even areas with high sensitivity values do not mean that a Wind Farm cannot operate in the area without any detriment to birds. What it does indicate is a high risk value and something the wind farm developer should seriously take into consideration when considering different areas for possible development.

Worldwide Industrial Wind Facility developers and operators deny the negative environmental impact these enormous industrial power plants have, even though  the evidence is well documented, and the opposition is growing rapidly. How can we expect the same industry to voluntarily “seriously take the high risk value of detriment to birds into consideration when considering different areas for possible development“, as the introduction of the bird map reads.

SA is home to 45 globally threatened bird species and about 35% of Africa’s bird species are seen in Southern Africa.  Africa has 23% of the world’s approximately 9000 bird species.

The Western Cape, the last found resort of our national bird, the Blue Crane, has been carpet bombed with proposed wind farm developments. Not only will the huge Industrial wind facilities  threaten the biggest and most vulnerable bird populations, but together with the associated extra overhead power line infrastructure , already a known danger to these birds, could drive them into extinction.