Friday, May 06, 2011

Are utilities sabotaging renewable energy projects?

Siting wind turbines - be they onshore or offshore - has turned into an incredibly arduous task in many countries and communities in many parts of the United States and other countries around the world. The list of criticisms and fears associated with wind energy technology seems to grow longer even as the majority of the concerns raised are addressed.

So what's up? (GW)

Wind energy 'under attack'

by Duncan Alfreds
May 5, 2011

Cape Town - Major utilities are engaged in a discreet campaign to undermine renewable energy projects by spreading propaganda, a wind energy expert has said.

"Utilities have lost out to wind farms and they're losing business to smaller companies. So they're sabotaging renewable energy projects," Hermann Oelsner, the president of the African Wind Energy Association, told News24.

He said utilities were spreading "propaganda" about wind farms, particularly in Europe where small firms are providing alternative energy sources for towns.

"They say wind farms are loud - it's utter nonsense. Noise experts check this. You can hear wind turbines from 300m away but we won't be putting wind farms in residential areas," said Oelsner.

The basic idea of wind energy has not changed from the kind of windmills used during the industrial revolution in Europe, he said.

"The basic idea is the same, but the modern machines don't have a gearbox - they have a generator."


Several countries are building demonstration wind farms and the US recently announced its first offshore wind farm in the Nantucket Sound.

In March, China's Xinjiang Goldwind Science and Technology, the world's fifth-largest maker of wind turbines, opened an office in Cape Town with a view to supplying Africa with wind technology.

Developments in Japan after the earthquake and tsunami have accelerated calls from some countries and NGOs for an abandonment of nuclear energy in favour of renewables, but Oelsner cautioned against large-scale projects like the Nantucket Sound project in the US.

"The higher up you go the more wind you catch, and it's difficult enough to do maintenance in the machine housing 50m up on land, but offshore is just a waste of money.

"The idea is to use the electricity where you are situated, and these massively expensive projects are advanced by people who really want to sabotage renewable energy," he said.

According to the African Wind Energy Association, the long term costs of wind energy are cheaper than those associated with coal.


"There are enormous transmission losses when you generate electricity far away from where you're going to use it. When you put on your lights in Cape Town, the air gets dirty in Mpumalanga. The long term costs for renewable energy are cheaper than coal," said Oelsner.

He added that investors were ready to drive development of renewable energy solutions, but that government policy was not doing enough to facilitate the generation of alternative energy programmes.

"Money is no problem whatsoever. Policy is hindering development in this country and once we create the industry, government should open up the market. They should remove any restriction on the amount of energy you can generate."

Recently, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) called on the government to invest in renewable energy.

"South Africa, like other developing countries, has a vital opportunity to use investment in renewable energy as an engine of economic development, livelihoods and dignity. Starting that engine demands investment as well as an enabling legislative environment," said WWF's climate change programme manager Richard Worthington.

He added that the National Energy Regulator of SA needed to introduce a renewable-energy feed-in tariff (Refit), which would enable independent power producers to supply electricity to the Eskom grid.


Oelsner said that countries in Europe were investing renewable energy, and that SA had the additional advantage of sunshine for solar power.

"There are smaller towns in Germany and Denmark that are 100% wind energy. And in South Africa, we have sunshine here for solar power. We should have done this 20 years ago."

Oelsner will open the 3rd Wind Power Africa conference at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on May 9, which will focus on issues related to wind energy in SA.


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