In the grip of a severe drought for the past three years, cash-strapped livestock farmers in Riebeek East say a potential deal to lease portions of their land to Renewable Energy Systems Southern Africa may save them from bankruptcy.
But while dozens of farmers see the wind turbine scheme as a goose that could lay a golden egg, their game-ranching neighbours – who rely on tourism to earn their money – are convinced any additions to the rural skyline will negatively impact their businesses.
A handful of farmers heckled two opponents of the scheme – who own land in the area, but live in Cape Town – during a scoping report meeting in the sleepy farming hamlet on Wednesday night.
“You have come here to interfere. All you do on your land is breed jackals, you do not even employ people,” one burly farmer claimed.
Earlier, Bok Dam owner Andre van der Spuy told meeting facilitator Shawn Johnston of Sustainable Futures ZA that the scheme would adversely affect his farm – which he had set up for eco-tourism and nature pursuits.
Claims that the process initiated by RES was illegitimate were denied by Johnston.
Van der Spuy also claimed the contracts farmers had signed with RES were “potentially unfair”, and urged the company to publicly disclose its turnover and profit.
Nearby landowner Johnny de Beer – who operates a game farm – said he had invested in what he thought was a “pristine area” and was concerned the visual impact would affect the “ambience” of his investment.
Concerns about the impact of up to 200 turbines on local birdlife by another resident – Kathleen Bethune – would have to be studied in depth during the environmental impact assessment phase.
Responding, Savannah SA environmental consultant Jo-Anne Thomas, who is working on the proposal with RES, admitted that the impact of turbines on South African birdlife was still unknown.
She said, however, the area was home to a “number of birds of concern”, including the endangered blue crane.
These issues would be studied in depth during the EIA phase.
Concerns of the “accumulative effect” of hundreds of turbines on the environment – just one of many similar schemes between East London and Port Elizabeth – were noted by Johnston.
According to the presentation, RES ran similar projects throughout the world that currently produced 5000 megawatts of clean energy.
The Riebeek East scheme – using turbines up to 120m high – would generate 600MW for South African consumption. Johnston said that for every megawatt of energy, 13jobs were created.
If everything goes according to plan, the EIA will be completed this year and the project operational in 2017, if approved by government.
Although several game ranch operators throughout the Eastern Cape have expressed opposition to wind turbines near their operations, they were not at the meeting.
Johnston admitted this group was “very critical of the project”.