New plan promises jobs and clean, green power (Grahamstown, South Africa)

    GRAHAMSTOWN could soon become home to an innovative R60million scheme that will give real “power to the people” – by turning invasive trees into much-needed electricity.
    Besides creating as many as 150 jobs, the groundbreaking proposal by the international Nollen Group will save millions of litres of water by removing thirsty aliens like Australian wattle and gum trees.
    With the Makana Municipality already firmly behind the scheme, the Netherlands-based environmental finance company just needs to convince Grahamstown residents that the idea to build South Africa’s first wood- burning power station is a winner.
    With more than 10 million hectares of “invasive alien plants” in South Africa, Nollen Group senior investment officer Charlie Cox yesterday told the Dispatch the project would solve many social and environmental ills all at once.
    Although Nollen is a private green finance company that has to make money to survive, Cox said they would conform to strict international environmental standards when it came to things like smoke emissions .
    “We will not be having a 100-ton braai every day,” the Yale graduate quipped. “We will use the latest technology to create clean smoke that will adhere to EU emission standards.”
    This would score the company sought-after “carbon credits” that it could then sell on to international companies.
    Cox said the project would have to chop and deliver one hectare a day of alien trees to a specially built facility next to Grahamstown’s now-defunct coal burning power station – which is right next to a major substation.
    The power generated could be sold to Eskom and other users for at least the next 20 years. The project can be expanded to other areas as well.
    With some mature alien tree species sucking upwards of 1000 litres of water a day, it is not hard to see why they have become such a threat to South African biodiversity.
    Contracts to harvest the aliens would be signed with local farmers – who would have their lands cleaned free of charge.
    The project is supported by Grahamstown alternative energy guru Dr Garth Cambray . “I f we have schools and a university that run on green power it will turn Grahamstown into a place where green leaders learn.”
    Municipal spokesperson Thandy Matebese yesterday said the local authority was “very excited” by the proposal. “We want to become the leading municipality in South Africa when it comes to green issues and technology.”
    A public meeting will be held on Thursday at the local Scout Hall at 5pm for input on the much anticipated Environmental Impact Assessment.
    If successful, the project should be up and running by January 2012. – By DAVID MACGREGOR
    Port Alfred Bureau