In South Africa, BioTherm Energy’s Excelsior Wind farm is collaborating with conservation organisations to minimise the wind industry’s impact on local bird populations (avifauna).
To avoid losses, the on-site mitigation programme includes an industry-first implementation of an observer-led ‘Shut Down on Demand’ (SDOD) system for priority species.
The 33MW Excelsior Wind farm is constructed on 2,300 hectares of land in Swellendam, an area known as one of the largest agricultural producing areas in the country and home to many species of birds.
The programme not only studies how to mitigate the potential impact of the wind farm on birds but also aims to grow priority species, including Cape Vulture, Black Harrier, Verreaux’s Eagle and Martial Eagle.
The SDOD system is implemented through notification by a team of bird monitors stationed in the wind farm’s on-site operations room, where individual wind turbines are switched off when the priority species is in the vicinity and switched on again once the bird has passed by.
“This direct mitigation through shutdowns has resulted in zero loss of priority species to date, meaning that we can proudly say that there have been no turbine collision fatalities so far, and we expect the same into the future,” said Libby Hirshon, BioTherm Energy’s sustainability director.
Additionally, the programme provides local job creation. The eight biodiversity monitors, who are predominately female, have been recruited from the surrounding communities. The team of monitors are sited at three vantage points, seven days a week, and are responsible for the implementation of this rigorous programme through active communication with the operators.
BioTherm Energy recognises that in the Overberg region, where the Excelsior Wind Energy Facility is situated, many bird species are also susceptible to powerline collisions, which has been well documented by the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT). This poses a significantly greater threat to certain species than wind turbines, including South Africa’s national bird, the Blue Crane.
“We approached the EWT to discuss potential conservation initiatives, and the result was the rollout of over four thousand bird flight diverters to mitigate avifauna fatalities along high-risk powerlines near, but not directly associated with, our project. We believe that this initiative will prevent needless collisions by Blue Cranes, Cape Vultures, and a host of other raptors. We have no doubt that, through this kind of collaboration, we can create innovative solutions where both conservation and renewable energy can coexist and even enhance each other,” commented Hirshon.
The EWT’s Wildlife and Energy Programme Programme Manager, Lourens Leeuwner, was recently reported in the media saying, “It is extremely encouraging to see an IPP actively seeking opportunities to conserve priority bird species in the regions surrounding their facilities. BioTherm Energy is actively engaging with project partners and looking to bolster conservation initiatives around their wind energy facilities”.