As more wind farms become fully operational and put electricity into the constrained South African grid, Wind Energy BirdLife South Africa and the South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA) have noted and welcomed the increasing commitment to environmental best practice relating to birds and wind power in the country.

BirdLife South Africa and SAWEA’s co-operation has led to the adoption of a code of conduct in June 2013 for wind farm developers in South Africa. While the code of conduct does not explicitly deal with birds, it does require SAWEA members to follow international best practice during project development, implementation and operation.

It also requires members to exercise due care to reduce the risk of negative impacts on the environment. In addition to this, SAWEA endorsed the BirdLife South Africa / Endangered Wildlife Trust best practice guidelines for avian monitoring and impact mitigation at proposed wind energy development sites in southern Africa which were developed in 2012. These guidelines are based on international best practice and are a key resource used to help minimise the impact of renewable energy developments on birds and their habitats.

Mike Mangnall, chair of SAWEA’s Environmental Working Group, contextualises as follows: “As clear guidelines on best practice have emerged, we have seen the majority of developers embracing these. We have been disseminating the guidelines to the industry, and they are being accepted.”

“It is important that we follow international best practice,” Samantha Ralston, birds and renewable energy manager for BirdLife South Africa, says. “Wind farms are new to South Africa, but we are in a fortunate position that we can learn from our international partners who have years of experience in assessing, monitoring and mitigating the impacts of wind energy on birds. With the right approach, conflicts between birds and wind farms can, to a large extent, be avoided.”

While there were a few teething problems in aligning the regulatory process with best practice, almost all wind farm developers have committed to monitoring and resolving impacts on birds both before and after construction. Many developers are also working closely with BirdLife South Africa to ensure compliance. “We are pleased to note this development,” Dipolelo Elford, chair of SAWEA, says. “Our industry is about long term sustainability and environmental best practice is a core part of that.”

Ralston says, “We are really encouraged to see positive changes in the way potential impacts on birds are being monitored and assessed in South Africa. We acknowledge that following best practice requires a huge upfront commitment from developers, but this is critical if the industry is to develop sustainably.”

Electricity from wind farms are already feeding the South African grid, with additional turbines from Round 1 of the country’s renewable energy independent power producer programme (REIPPP) being commissioned on a weekly basis. Round 4 of the REIPPPP is expected to close for bids in August 2014.

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