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Oct 18, 2012

Wind-site developer pursuing 2 000 MW SA pipeline

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Wind-energy site developer Windlab – which is participating in two projects that have already progressed to the preferred-bidder stage under South Africa’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Programme (REIPPP) – reports that it is pursuing a further 14 near-term South African prospects that could collectively represent more than 2 000 MW of future capacity.

CEO Roger Price says the country’s abundant and high-quality onshore wind resources, coupled with growing electricity demand and a sound renewable-energy procurement process has positioned South Africa as a key “growth engine” for the company.

All told, Windlab, which is headquartered in Canberra, Australia, is advancing a portfolio of 40 wind projects on five continents, involving some 5 000 MW. But Price says the South African portfolio represents around half of the group’s advanced prospects.

The immediate focus, though, is on the 138 MW Amakhala Emoyeni site, near Bedford, in the Eastern Cape, which is being developed by Cennergi and the West Coast 1 project, being pursued by Moyeng Energy, a consortium involving Investec Bank and GDF Suez.

Windlab’s proprietary wind resource mapping technology was deployed in the selection of the sites and Price believes the visibility offered to the developers will lower the operational risks and improve shareholder returns.

Initially developed by researchers at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, the technology, known as WindScape, delivers high-resolution wind-resource maps ahead of the deployment of the physical wind measuring and verification equipment.

Windlab Africa MD Peter Venn says the technology has enabled the company to identify high-potential prospects on the east coast of Africa, which it aims to pursue over the coming years.

But Venn stresses that Windlab is also prepared to enter projects as a minority equity partner, which further lowers the independent power producer development risk.

Both Price and Venn are sanguine about the current REIPPP delays, arguing that, while they would have preferred the first bid-window projects to have closed in June as initially conceived, the schedule slippage is not untoward in light of the novelty and scale of the programme being pursued.

However, Windlab believes that South Africa will only fully benefit from the growing cost competitiveness of wind if the current programme to procure 3 725 MW of renewable energy evolves into a rolling procurement programme, with a far larger allocation for wind.

During the second REIPPP bid window the successful wind projects were tendered at a price of 89c/kWh, making them competitive with new coal-fired production on a levelised cost basis.

However, should the localisation thresholds rise from 30% currently to closer to the 65% aspiration, that cost competitiveness would be undermined – unless the allocation is large enough to justify manufacturing investments by equipment suppliers.

Price believes a wind procurement programme of around 1 000 MW a year over a period of ten years would be sufficient to facilitate the localisation currently being sought by the South African authorities.

Energy Minister Dipuo Peters is expected to release a new determination soon extending the REIPPP to 2020 and adding a further 3 200 MW for procurement. However, this figure is yet to be confirmed and the allocation split between the various renewables technologies is also not yet certain.

In the meantime, Windlab is working with other local wind developers to communicate the benefits of the technology to farmers and near-project communities.

Dipolelo Elford has been appointed to facilitate this liaison process and is overseeing the “Communities for Wind” programme on behalf of Windlab.

Elford says there is potential for communities to benefit both as shareholders and as employees. Efforts will also be made to communicate the potential synergies between agricultural activities and the deployment of wind projects.

Edited by: Creamer Media Reporter

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