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Balancing South Africa’s Wind Energy and Conservation

In South Africa there are at least 23 fully operational wind farms producing almost 2 gigawatts, and several more are about to come online. The country aims to produce around 14.4 gigawatts a year from wind by 2030, which would be around 20% of the country’s energy demand. This is good news in the battle to reduce carbon emissions and ensure a more consistent power supply. But these developments can have other less positive impacts which also need to be addressed. One of these impacts is that wind turbines can kill birds when they collide with the moving blades. This problem is known worldwide, and some types of bird are more vulnerable to this threat than others. Birds of prey, such as eagles, buzzards and vultures, use the same wind resources that turbines need to operate. In South Africa, recent research found that 36% of birds killed by wind turbines were birds of prey. These birds have long lifespans and produce relatively few young each year, which means that even a small increase in deaths can cause their populations to decline. This wind-wildlife conflict has been termed a green-green dilemma: more clean energy and healthy bird populations are both desirable environmental goals, yet with detrimental counter effects.