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Blowing in the wind

(August 2005) Source: CBN

THE  proposed electricity wind farm at Darling on the Cape’s West Coast could be generating power six months after the foundation work has started on the project.

After years of delay the Darling Independent Power Producer company, Darlipp, headed by Hermann Oelsner, is finally in a position where the project can go ahead. The Environmental Impact Assessment has taken a gruelling four years to complete and government approval was finally granted in July 2005.

It has not been an easy process and the developer even had to resort to court action to force a decision from the government (this took almost two years).

The case was recently settled out of court, which leaves only the approval of building plans from the Swartland Municipality. The application is to serve before the next meeting of the full council, but Oelsner foresees no problem here because the municipality has been supportive of the project.

Oelsner is confident that the foundation work on the project could start by September/October  this year. He says the lead in time for wind generation projects are ‘remarkably short’, and Cape Town could be drawing ‘green power’ from the wind farm six months later.

Multiple sources have been used for the funding of the project. One third is donor funding from a Danish government agency, Danida. The Danes have considerable experience in wind generation projects, with several of these projects in operation off the coast of Denmark. Another third of the funding is from Development Bank of Southern Africa. The remaining funding is from Darlipp and the Central Energy Fund. C.E.F will hold 49%, Darlipp 26 % and black empowerment groupings 25%. The capital outlay on the project is R70 million.

Four wind turbines with a combined electricity output of 5.2 megawatt are to be installed. The turbines from Denmark are built by Siemens, but provided through an independent supplier, AN Wind Energie Gmbh, of Bremen in Germany.

The main contractor in South Africa is Conco, a company based at Midrand in Gauteng. They have considerable experience of such projects, having provided similar equipment for wind energy projects in Australia. The civil engineering contracts has been awarded to Grinaker/LTA. The installation will be 50 metres high, equivalent to a 17 storey building.  Each of the blades is 28 metres long.

After a long period of testing the site selected for the installation is on a hillside 80 kilometres north of Cape Town, just off the road between Darling and the R27 West Coast turn-off to Yzerfontein. Appropriately, the farm on which it will be built is called ‘Windhoek’.

The power generated will be supplied directly to Cape Town, which means consumers in the city will be the first beneficiaries of commercially generated  ‘green power’. A contract has been signed with the Cape Town municipality.  Oelsner says Cape Town has been prepared to pay three times more than Eskom for the power delivered from the Darling project. He is not prepared to disclose the exact terms of the contract.

Oelsner describes it as a ‘demonstration project’, and says it was never intended to be a profitable money-making venture. ”It’s impossible to make a profit and it was never perceived as a profit-making undertaking”, he says. He steers clear of the words ‘government subsidy’, and explains that all power generation involves huge government investments.

He says South Africa is committed to generating 4% of its power requirements from renewable resources by the year 2013. This project puts the country on a path to achieving that goal.

The installation of the four turbines is the first phase of the project.  It is envisaged to erect a further six turbines on the same site. Economies of scale will kick in at that stage. The same number of staff is required to run either four or ten turbines. The environmental impact of the present four turbines will be closely monitored before the project is enlarged. Tests are also being done at Langefontein, a nearby site, and the project leaders believe that this position has an even better potential for generating wind power.

The Darling wind farm will be delivering 13.5 gigawatt hours per year, which Oelsner concedes as a miniscule part of Cape Town’s power requirements of about 10 000 gigawatt hours a year. However, he says there is a definite demand for renewable energy. Although technically not separated from other electricity supplied by Cape Town, the input from the Darling wind farm will be measured. This meets the approval of companies and exporters who are seeking environmental accreditation for their products.

Oelsner believes that the Cape West Coast has the potential to become the wind powerhouse of  South Africa. He claims that the potential exists to generate as much as 10 000 megawatts, and disputes the much lower figures supplied by Eskom.

Eskom has installed a test facility for wind power at Klipheuwel, north of Durbanville. The output from three turbines, a Danish Vesta and two French Jeumonts, are being monitored. The output capacity of the Eskom turbines is quite low at some 15%, but Oelsner is more than confident that the Darling wind farm will operate at a capacity of  more than 34%. He believes the wrong site was selected for the Eskom installation.

Siemens South Africa is not directly involved in the Darling wind farm, but the Cape managing director of the company, Willem Botha, says they are taking a keen interest in the project. He says they are particularly interested in the linkage of wind generated power and pump storage schemes, an area where they have well developed expertise.