Interview: Jannie Retief, Cookhouse Wind Farm

Jannie Retief, CEO of Africa’s largest wind farm, Cookhouse in the Eastern Cape. Jannie Retief, CEO of Africa’s largest wind farm, Cookhouse in the Eastern Cape.

Belmont Asset Management will be running a series of interviews with successful South African entrepreneurs throughout 2014. In this, our third in the series, we speak to Jannie Retief, CEO of Africa’s largest wind farm, Cookhouse in the Eastern Cape.

Tell us more about the industry in which you operate

RENEWABLE energy (RE) - the generation of electricity from sustainable fuel sources such as wind, sun or water - is a relatively new industry, but an exciting one.  The world is hungry for energy and using sustainable fuels is an obvious way forward and an important area for research and development. 

From a purely South African perspective, RE makes sense because we have an acute shortage of electricity, we have the sun, the wind, the sea and other sustainable fuels at our disposal and we have no space constraints.  All of these factors combine to render RE a viable industry within our country and one which I envisage growing from strength to strength, not least because it is clean and does not pollute our environment.

RE projects comprise three major phases, namely development (taking a ‘greenfield site’ through environmental impact assessments and obtaining all necessary permits); construction and operations.  I have been privileged to have worked in all
three phases. 

What was the original idea and your initial challenges? 

In 2003, I was involved in the construction of a natural gas power station in the UK. When it was completed the CEO of the utility company and I decided to expand into the very new field of RE. 

RE is a capital-intensive industry and our first challenge was to raise the necessary funds to progress with the project. Investors simply did not appreciate or understand the risk profile of RE. In most countries in Europe, RE is supported by a feed-in tariff, which actually made RE a low risk investment with high returns.  The problem was that this does not make traditional sense and it was difficult to convince potential investors to invest.

What are your plans for your business over the next five to ten years?

South Africa has a strong political will to support RE.  Moreover, the demand for electricity in our country is high and growing.  Our plan is therefore to grow our RE portfolio, specifically in wind and solar, with a lesser focus on hydro.  South Africa needs to increase electricity generation by 40,000MW, of which 18,000MW should be from RE sources as per the Department of Energy’s requirements.  What an opportunity
this represents!

How do you invest your profits to secure your family’s future?

Initially I invested solely in property, but in 1986 I met one of the directors of Belmont Asset Management and this prompted me to diversify.  I began investing a portion of profits into a portfolio with Belmont and they have managed that portfolio ever since. 

What do you look for in a wealth manager?

I need my wealth manager to be properly qualified and to bring a certain depth of experience to the table. Moreover, I expect a deep knowledge of world markets, but most importantly, I expect the highest level of integrity and impeccable moral values.

What are your long-term investment goals?

My goal, quite simply, is to have a medium risk, balanced portfolio that outperforms the market over the long-term. 

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