Genesis Eco-Energy (Pty) Ltd.'s (Genesis Eco-Energy) environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the 50 megawatt (MW) Saint Helena Bay wind farm is expected to begin in March 2009. The project is valued at ZAR850-million. The company has been monitoring and collating site-level wind data on the farm since May 2008. The wind farm will be suited to a project in the range between 30 MW and 50 MW, with 80 MW being the maximum size that the farm could accommodate.

The energy will be fed into the national grid.

The wind farm will be able to generate up to 2% of the entire Western Cape’s 3,500 MW summer requirements.

Genesis Eco-Energy Chief Operating Officer Davin Chown explained that the EIA for the renewable energy project was originally scheduled to start in June 2008.

“However, the EIA was delayed owing to the fact that a number of international investors were concerned about the international macroeconomic climate and the uncertainty in the international financial markets and, thus, were averse to provide funding for the St Helena Bay project at that time,” Chown said.

“In addition, the uncertainty around the Department of Minerals and Energy’s Expression of Interest process for renewable energy projects, which will afford project developers and Independent Power Producer’s (IPP) a sound opportunity to really help develop and drive the renewable energy market, is another concern for investors,” Chown said.

Chown said that while investors were very keen to invest in the project, they were reluctant to commit finances while the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) was deliberating on the proposed feed-in tariff scheme for the renewable energy sector.

The proposed feed-in tariff (FIT) was circulated for public comment in 2008 and the Nersa concluded its public hearings last week as part of the official consultation process.

The basic economic principle behind the feed-in tariff was the establishment of a tariff, or price, that would cover the cost of generation plus a reasonable profit to induce developers to invest in renewable energy projects and associated infrastructure.

Nersa was working on the comments received during the public hearings and it is anticipated that the national energy regulator will make a decision regarding the implementation of the feed-in tariff scheme in early March.

Chown further continued that Genesis Eco-Energy will examine Nersa’s announcement of its findings regarding the feed-in tariff as this signal from the regulator will be key in determining a projects success.

Chown was confident that once Nersa announced its decision on the feed-in tariff, the company will be able to secure local and international funding for the ZAR850-million project based on the keen interest shown by the development and finance community.

“A formal EIA approval will allow further wind monitoring at hub height for an additional period of time in order to ensure the wind regime is suitable for the envisaged development,” Chown said.

“Wind data is very crucial and the banks need a full year’s worth of verifiable data, supported by long term background data, in order to approve funding for the project.”

The wind farm will be located on a 926 hectares of farm land owned by the local Seeland Development Trust.

The number of turbines has not yet been determined still the company is in procurement discussions with international and local wind turbine manufacturers and the final decisions will be based on the confirmed wind regime on the farm as well as on the provisions of the record of decision pertaining to a number issues in the EIA such as visual impact.

“Although we are is discussions with local manufacturers, owing to the international credit crisis, many of the European renewable wind energy projects have been shelved,” Chown said.

“This means that European manufacturers have availability of stock and we can fast-track the importation of wind turbines for this project.” Wind turbines with a generation capacity of between 1,8 MW and 2,5 MW are being considered.

Chown said that the project was essential for the area as the rapid urban development in the area meant that the energy supply to the area may face a number of challenges in providing supply.

“In addition, Saldanha has one of the highest carbon footprints per capita in the country and a green energy project of this nature will certainly help to offset the towns carbon emissions, create local employment opportunities, as well as contribute significantly to the Provincial Governments climate change mitigation objectives” Chown concluded.