Poor to reap big benefits from Port Elizabeth wind farm

September 13, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

THE plight of millions of poor South Africans is well illuminated by the MetroWind Van Stadens wind farm project, which will soon provide wind-generated electricity to up to 6,000 homes situated among bush and farmland, about 30km from Port Elizabeth.

Basil Read Energy, a subsidiary of the eponymous listed construction and engineering company, develops, finances, owns and operates wind, solar and hydro projects. It is a major shareholder in the R550m project, which includes three impoverished local communities, consisting of about 450 families, as 5% shareholders.

The community stake, in the form of dividends, will be worth about R40m over the wind farm’s 20-year life span. Assurer Old Mutual is a 35% stakeholder in the project, which is financed by various domestic banks.

Another 1.5% of annual revenue, averaging about R1.6m a year, will be directed towards socioeconomic and enterprise development, including for nearby communities.

“If you compare a newly constructed coal-fired power station to a large-scale, newly constructed wind farm — over the life of the project wind is cheaper,” Basil Read Energy MD Ian Curry says.

The project, which has already provided basic solar-powered street lighting to some communities, is a result of the government’s renewable energy independent power producer programme.

With billions of rand committed, and much more to come, the plan aims to help apply the Department of Energy’s vision to make “adequate and affordable” electricity available to poorer communities using alternative energy sources.

Basil Read CEO Marius Heyns says the programme has staved off disaster in South Africa’s construction and engineering industry, which has struggled since the collapse of global markets in late 2008.

But firms also claim state infrastructure spending significantly lags demand, despite the Presidential Infrastructure Co-ordinating Commission’s R4-trillion spending plan over the next 15 years.

MetroWind also casts light on the complex and often tense relations between the government, metro councils and the rural poor. At the same time, it spotlights the positive strides that can be taken when the government, business and communities come together.

Nelson Mandela Bay executive mayor Nkosinathi Benson Fihla joined investors on a visit to MetroWind this week. A community leader welcomed him, saying few politicians or municipal officials had visited them since their beginnings in the early 1980s.

“We all realise that Eskom at this stage cannot satisfy all energy needs,” Mr Fihla said, adding the government and the private sector “must join forces”.

So far, three Chinese-built wind turbines of the full complement of nine have been installed, to provide 27MW of power. Erection of the turbines began early last month , and all nine will begin operating by February next year.

Each 3MW turbine was shipped from China by Sinovel, one of the world’s largest wind energy companies. They arrived at the port of Ngqura in the Coega industrial development zone near Port Elizabeth in June. The 90m high steel columns — each supporting a turbine about the size of a large shipping container, and three 56.5m long polyfibre blades — were transported by road to the site.

The project is eight months into construction, with the first two sections of the remaining six turbines installed and all civil works, including roads, the nine turbine platforms, the main control building and a store-room, complete.

The electrical works component of the project is in progress, connecting about 8km of overhead line, transformers and Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality switchgear. The site is compliant with all environmental specifications and has met targeted job creation for 120 workers, mainly locals, during building operations. There will be nine full-time jobs.

George Meko, the project community trust consultant from the metro authority, says the intention is to remedy the poor education and low skills base in the area. “Education is key,” he says, for the people who will benefit directly.

The R450m contract was awarded to Basil Read and subsidiaries, including Basil Read Matomo, the lead engineering, procurement and construction contractor. Newport Construction, an Eastern Cape-based black empowered civil engineering contractor that was nurtured by Basil Read, completed the foundation work.

“We are pleased with the excellent progress made with the project thus far to the extent that we will be in a position to begin cold commissioning early in October 2013,” says Marius von Wielligh, director of energy at Basil Read Matomo.

The plant meets almost 50% of the municipality’s target of generating 10% of electricity from renewable energy. It will offset 80,000 tons of carbon-dioxide emissions a year, in line with South Africa’s global commitments. It also requires no water to generate electricity — saving 80-million litres a year in the region.

• The writer was a guest of Basil Read in Port Elizabeth.

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