South Africa: Engie and EDF nailed for ecocide

By Marwane Ben Yahmed

Posted on Friday, 17 February 2023 16:51
The De Aar wind turbines in South Africa on 22 November 2021. © Lyu Tianran/Xinhua/SIPA

Environmentalists are denouncing half a dozen proposed wind farms as a direct threat to the Eastern Cape's natural parks.

A few months after its Gunaa Sicarú wind project abruptly ended in Mexico, is EDF Renewables – EDF’s renewable energy subsidiary – in danger of repeating the same scenario with its compatriot Engie in South Africa?

In June 2022, Unión Hidalgo opposed the energy company and succeeded in getting the Mexican central government to bend, effectively imposing the end of the wind farm project on the indigenous community’s land. The latter had employed, among other things, a law regarding the duty of care of its companies and their subsidiaries passed in 2017. The lawsuit in France allowed Hidalgo to put an end to EDF’s Mexican adventure.

Protected areas

Now onto the Eastern Cape and the area surrounding Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth). A series of private protected natural parks and the Addo Elephant National Park, the third largest park in the country, are under threat from wind farm projects in which Engie and EDF are in the front line. The first of these is the 140 MW Bayview wind farm project, led by Bayview Wind Power (Pty) Ltd, a company fully owned by Engie. This wind farm, which consists of around 40 turbines and covers an area of 42 km², is the closest to the Addo National Park.

This installation is a full-scale attack on Noah’s Ark under the guise of ecology.

However, this project is not the only one that has been singled out. A total of six wind farms, operated by EDF Renewables and Engie, are concerned because of their proximity to protected areas in South Africa. One of them, Grassridge, has already been built and is operated by EDF Renewables; and five others (Engie’s Bayview, Scarlet Ibis, Dassiesridge, Motherwell and Ukomeleza, operated by EDF) are planned. All are located within 10km to 20km of Addo National Park and other protected areas.

The end of ecotourism?

Faced with the energy companies, nature’s defenders have a name: Indalo Protected Environment. This single privately-owned complex takes up 80,000 hectares, and is home to more than 24,000 animals and 38 different species. They say the sound of the turbines will affect the local fauna and particularly the elephants by disturbing their method of communication, which consists of very low frequency sounds. Elephants will also be disturbed by the fact that it is impossible to fly anti-poaching patrol aircraft at low altitude.

“This installation is a full-scale attack on Noah’s Ark under the guise of ecology. This space is also home to the Albany viper, a very rare species,” says a scientist who wishes to remain anonymous. “Only 12 vipers have been seen since 1937. Just when we thought they were extinct, four new ones were seen in 2017.” In an article published by The Herald, Graham Kerley, a professor at Nelson Mandela University, says “we can’t put off the issue of biodiversity and animals simply because it is convenient to do so“.

Particularly opposed to the Bayview wind farm’s development, Indalo fears that it will stop the expansion of protected areas in the Eastern Cape. It could also mean the end of eco-tourism and jobs associated with it for this very poor province, say environmental activists.

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