Crucial Watson wind farm talks this week

Directors of controversial project to meet Department of Environmental Affairs

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Photo of hills
This is the Inyanda-Roodeplaat wind farm site in the Eastern Cape, taken from the cover of the Final Environmental Impact Report.

Talks this week between the national environmental authorities and the well-known Watson family of the Eastern Cape could prove crucial as to whether, and how, the family’s contentious Inyanda-Roodeplaat wind farm project is developed.

The family has been in the news this year with astounding revelations, at the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture, about alleged corruption involving the Bosasa group of companies headed by family patriarch Gavin Watson.

The 187.2MW, 47-turbine wind farm project in the mountains near Uitenhage is being proposed by Inyanda Energy Projects (Pty) Ltd, a company established in July 2012. The directors are Ronald (Ronnie) and Valence Watson, two of Gavin’s three younger brothers; Ronnie’s daughter Tandy Snead; and Valence’s son Jared.

Ronnie Watson is also the owner of the farms where the project is planned.

In April last year, despite strong opposition from many conservation and tourism authorities and non-government groups, as well as several neighbouring landowners, the national Department of Environmental Affairs gave the go-ahead for the wind farm.

However, five formal appeals against this authorisation were upheld almost exactly one year later – on 15 April 2019 – by then Acting Environmental Affairs Minister Lindiwe Zulu, who sent the decision back to the Department for further consultation and re-evaluation, to be assisted by an independent review specialist (or specialists).

Responding to questions by GroundUp last week, the Department said no specialists had yet been appointed.

However, it also revealed that Jared Watson had requested a meeting with the Department to “clarify the conditions of the appeal decision and the way forward”.

This meeting – “to discuss the latter” [way forward] – is scheduled to be held at the Department’s offices in Arcadia, Pretoria, on Thursday 30 May.

A major point of contention in the appeals process was the refusal of Inyanda Energy Projects to pay for an independent assessment of the impact of the proposed wind farm on birds like Verreaux’s Eagles (black eagles), Black Harriers and Martial Eagles. This was after two highly conflicting reports by ornithologists on the issue had been produced during the environmental impact assessment process.

The Department initiated an independent assessment of their findings but issued the environmental authorisation before any work on this assessment had started.

The wind farm company’s lawyers were adamant that there was no legal requirement for their clients to pay for such assessments.

It appears that the Department is now equally determined to make the company pay for any further reviews of the wind farm appeal issues. Its response to GroundUp stated:

“The Department will also obtain confirmation from the holder of the environmental authorisation that the payment for the specialist reviews will be covered by the holder directly. The Department will only appoint an independent specialist/s after a written undertaking to pay for the services of a specialist/s, is received from the applicant. Please note that all costs for specialist reports related to potential impacts for a proposed development are for the applicants’ account.”

TOPICS:  Environment

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