THE Eastern Cape took a massive step towards becoming the national leader in renewable energy when work started yesterday on Africa's biggest wind farm, close to Jeffreys Bay, and partly funded by international investors.
The138MW wind farm – being built at a cost of R2.8-billion – is part of government's renewable energy independent power producer procurement programme (REIPPP).
As well as supplying enough clean energy to supply 200000 homes, it will boost job creation and increase manufacturing potential in the province.
International and local backers also committed to future investment in the region during the ground-breaking ceremony on site yesterday.
The wind farm will consist of 60 2.3MW wind turbines and is located between Jeffreys Bay and Humansdorp.
The site is situated across eight farms and spans 3700 hectares.
When operating at full capacity and producing optimum output, the wind farm will save more than 4200000 tonnes of carbon being emitted every year.
The farm is expected to be operational in April next year.
During the 18-months construction period, about 200 jobs will be created and a commitment has been made by contractors to employ as many residents from the local community as possible.
Provincial Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism MEC Mcebisi Jonas said the economic benefits of the project would be vast. It would not only create jobs, but lead to the development of new technologies and increase manufacturing potential in the Eastern Cape.
"I am very proud and excited today. Despite all the challenges the Eastern Cape faces we are leading the way in terms of renewable energy," Jonas said.
Until now the region's economy had been centred around the automotive industry which was impacted by any global economic challenges, he said. It was therefore very important to look into finding new areas of manufacturing, and renewable energy was an important focus area.
The wind farm is owned by a consortium including Globeleq, Mainstream Renewable Power, Old Mutual, Thebe Investment Corporation, Jeffreys Bay Community Trust, Enzani Technologies, Siemens Wind Power, Murray and Roberts Construction and Consolidated Power Projects.
Among those providing expertise will be Mainstream Renewable Power, which has developed many solar and wind farms across four continents. Its chief executive, Eddie O'Connor, said the company was committed to playing a role in future development of the region and its communities. "This is a great milestone for South Africa's burgeoning renewable energy industry," O'Connor said.
"Mainstream Renewable Power is delighted to see this day after having been developing the Jeffreys Bay wind farm with our partners, Genesis Eco-Energy, since 2009.
"South Africa is endowed with an extraordinary wind and solar resource and Mainstream is developing more than 4000MW of wind and solar projects in the country to harness this free source of power," O'Connor said.
"We commend the government for providing the right framework to establish this new industry and we look forward to continuing our long-term goal of bringing real and sustainable social and economic benefits to the country."
Globeleq senior business development director Jonathan Hoffman said the company had confidence in South Africa and the Eastern Cape and was committed to future capital investment.
He said community benefits would be substantial and included enterprise development, socio-economic development, skills transfer and job creation.
Siemens Wind Power chief executive Jan Kjaersgaard added Siemens had been in the country for 50 years and planned to stay for years to come, especially in terms of renewable energy projects.