Rural communities in the Eastern Cape are to benefit financially from the wind farm projects which are to spring up in the province from next year.

Speaking at the European Union-Eastern Cape Renewable Energy Conference at the East London International Convention Centre yesterday, wind farm developers said rural communities living in a 50km radius of wind farms in the province would receive equity which would be administered in the form of community trusts.

Farmers who lease their land for the erection of wind turbines are also set to benefit from the multibillion-rand industry.

Of the 15 successful wind farm bids awarded by the Department of Energy (DoE), 10 will be in the Eastern Cape, prompting Energy Minister Dipuo Peters, who addressed delegates yesterday, to declare the province the future “green hub” of South Africa.

Innowind chief executive Martin Webb said communities living around the company's three projects – Grassridge near Coega, Waainek near Grahamstown and Chaba near Komga – would own a 26% equity in the business.

“We have formed community trusts in each community and they will own equity in the projects.”

Webb said the trusts would decide whether these funds would be used for the improvement of schools, SME developments or tertiary education bursaries.

“Each wind farm is a centre of prosperity for each community,” he said.

“Construction starts next year and as soon as the turbines start spinning and generating revenue, funds will start building up in each trust account.”

He said in cases where the land was owned by a community such as in the Transkei, where Innowind is to submit bids for the construction of two wind projects, much consultation was done with chiefs, kings, traditional leaders and other community structures.

“We had to engage in a lot of community gatherings over a period of three years and it is an ongoing process. Of course, the DoE now has to decide whether it [the projects] will go ahead or not.”

Cape Town company Windlab is to start its Eastern Cape construction of the biggest project in the country's renewable energy programme in April.

Situated on six commercial farms near Bedford and Cookhouse, the 60 turbines will generate 140 megawatts of power in a project costing between R2-billion and R3.5-billion.

Named Amakhala Emoyeni (Aloes in the Wind), the massive project will create thousands of jobs in its two-year construction phase, with the 20-year operation phase also providing employment opportunities, according to Windlab managing director Peter Venn.

And besides farmers, who will benefit from leasing their land for the turbines, and the communities living around Bedford and Cookhouse receiving 2.5% each of dividends, the general economy of the area will also profit.

“We are already seeing the hotel in Bedford being rebuilt and more B&Bs opening up,” said Venn, who explained the company had chosen the area because of its very consistent winds.

“Coastal areas might blow harder but they are blustery and not as consistent, while in Bedford the wind can blow in the same direction for 10 days.”

Windlab director Dipolelo Elford said: “We in South Africa are obliged to reduce our carbon footprint, but at the same time, we will do it by uplifting communities. The Eastern Cape has the lion's share of wind projects … and ours is the biggest.”

Source: The Herald