Letseng La-Terae (wind farm project), Lesotho

 

By Policy Intern, Friday 30/05/2014.

Chris van Rooyen

Status: IBA

Campaign period: 2012 and on-going

Background

Found on the north-eastern escarpment of the Maluti-Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site, it rests within the Maluti mountain range in Lesotho. This case is being followed up by BirdLife South Africa (BirdLife partner in South Africa) because there is no partner in Lesotho.

Why it is important

  • This site falls within the breeding, roosting and foraging ground of important populations of both Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) and Cape Vulture (Gyps coprotheres).
  • Bearded Vultures are currently listed as Endangered in South Africa but their population has been declining; it will be uplisted to Critically Endangered in the pending update of the Eskom Red Data Book of Birds of South Africa, Lesotho, and Swaziland.
  • The Cape Vulture is only found in southern Africa and is currently listed as Vulnerable in the Red Data Book. It will be up listed to Endangered in the updated Red Data Book.
  • Other significant populations of birds, including the Southern Bald Ibis (Geronticus calvus) and Black Stork (Ciconia nigra), and localized endemics such as the Drakensberg Rock-jumper (Chaetops aurantius) and Mountain Pipit (Anthus hoeschi), might also be affected.

The threat

PowerNET Developments (Pty) Ltd proposed to erect 42 wind turbines (each with a capacity of 850 kW) near Letšeng-La-Terae, on the north-eastern plateau of the high Drakensberg. This is the first wind farm to be approved in Lesotho, a potentially precedent setting case.

Concerns

The campaign started in 2012 when concerns were first raised that constructing a wind farm would have adverse effects to Bearded and Cape Vultures. Vultures are particularly prone to colliding with wind turbines and the project site is within breeding and foraging grounds for both of these endangered species. Bearded Vultures and Cape Vultures are long-lived, slow breeding birds so a relatively small increase in mortality is likely to cause the local populations to crash and possibly lead to local extinction.

Despite concerns raised by BirdLife South Africa and its partners, the Lesotho government gave PowerNet Development a go ahead to implement the project in October 2013.

Campaign Strategies

  • Numerous submissions to the environmental consultant and to the Director of Environment   by BirdLife South Africa, BirdLife International, RSPB and other partners raising concerns with the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
  • Meetings held between the Lesotho Department of Environment, PowerNet, the environmental consultant, BirdLife South Africa and other interested parties.
  • Director of Environment was requested to review record the decision for the proposed wind farm.
  • An advocacy strategy was drafted and legal opinion obtained (thanks to RSBP support).
  • Awareness raising, thorough talks at conferences, press releases, media articles, radio and television interviews, and networking with stakeholders.
  • A meeting was held between Birdlife South Africa, the Lesotho Department of Environment and other stakeholders, to discuss wind energy and its impacts on birds, and potential strategies(including the development of a Bird Sensitivity Map and strategic Environmental assessment) to address the challenges.

Campaign outcomes

The wind farm project has not been initiated yet, thanks to the campaign, but the campaign still goes on.

  • The initial EIS was improved substantially in response to input received from BirdLife South Africa and its partners, although the final report still fell short of adequately addressing concerns. 
  • A formal response submitted in January 2014 to the request for the Record of Decision (issued in October 2013) to be reviewed is still awaited.
  • The government of Lesotho’s decision requires a year’s worth of avifaunal monitoring to determine the impact of the proposed project on the area’s vultures. It is not clear in the ROD whether construction could start during this period of time. To date, the avifaunal monitoring with radar system has not been initiated.
  • BirdLife South Africa has been given assurances by both the Director of Environment and the developer that they will be consulted in the process of avifaunal monitoring. If necessary, the Record of Decision can be amended should the results of monitoring indicate that this is necessary.
  • BirdLife South Africa and the Department of Environment have agreed to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding, whereby BirdLife South Africa will offer capacity building and support for future planning and assessment for renewable energy development in Lesotho.

Links: BLSA News, BLSA media releaseWindpower Intelligence