THE winds of economic change are blowing in the Somerset East district with the construction of the Cookhouse Wind Farm.
Overlooking the small village of Cookhouse, the wind farm will literally change the outlook of the horizon, with the first wind turbines set to be erected on top of the Patryshoogte mountain this month.
The turbines will be seen from the R63 between Somerset East and Bedford, according to wind farm chief executive Jannie Retief, who has been building these farms across the world for the past few years.
"When I see wind turbines, it always symbolises progress to me. We have wind, sun and space in abundance in South Africa and therefore I believe the future of renewable energy in the country is looking very rosy. In the long run, wind energy is much cheaper than coal-generated electricity," Retief said.
The future of the four towns surrounding the wind farm – Cookhouse, Bedford, Somerset East and Adelaide – is also looking good with the establishment of the Cookhouse Wind Farm Community Trust.
A year after the wind farm becomes operational, the trust will start receiving 25% of the dividends – which according to Retief is expected to be hundreds of millions – to be allocated to development projects within a 50km radius of the wind farm over its 20-year lifespan.
"This money will make a huge difference in the communities and will be managed by eight trustees, represented by company officials as well as four representatives from the surrounding towns," Retief said.
"We have been closely involved with the community and apart from talks at the local schools, we hosted an inter-schools wind turbine building competition as well as a great soccer tournament."
A total of 400 workers are employed on site, of which only highly skilled labour is not sourced locally. Three engineers from Somerset East also found employment at the wind farm and a database of unemployed people and local service providers was compiled for all labour and service-related needs by contractors at the wind farm.
Blue Crane Development Agency's Nico Lombard said the economic impact of the wind farm on the region thus far had been incredible.