The government’s utility scale renewable energy plants, being rolled out across the country between now and 2016 under the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (RE IPPPP), has specific requirements relating to economic development and community benefits. Four of the seven criteria relate to the citizens residing within a 50 kilometre radius around a proposed project site. These require that projects have a percentage local community ownership, contribute to local job creation, as well as spending directed towards socio-economic development and enterprise development. Whilst these requirements open up exciting development potential for impoverished communities, the experiences of the industry to date, after completion of the first two bidding rounds, have revealed a number of potential problem areas emerging.
It was on this basis that the Energy Research Centre at the University of Cape Town decided to bring together specific experts in a workshop environment to explore issues regarding the RE IPPPP rollout. The workshop was attended by 22 participants comprising representatives from IPPs (representing wind, solar and hydro), South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (SAPVIA), Development Bank of South Africa (DBSA), Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) as well as community development practitioners from Community Development Resource Association (CDRA), South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and Conservation International South Africa. Whilst there are, of course, many more important voices with a stake in these issues including municipalities, communities and other government departments; the ERC targeted this event to initiate a process of on-going dialogue within the broader sector.
The workshop aimed to elicit insights and experiences from the first two bidding rounds to better understand some of the opportunities and challenges emerging. This was used to provide context to explore ideas, suggestions and recommendations around how to address these in current approved projects and/or to also improve the process going forward. These recommendations could either trickle back upstream to inform policy, or downstream to help improve the interaction between developers and communities at the implementation level. Out of the many discussions during the day, consensus emerged that there is definitely a pressing need for the industry to start collectively addressing these challenges and for more engagement with policymakers to streamline processes for implementing these requirements. Suggestions were made to establish a representative industry platform across all technologies, in the hope that this could enable different industry players to address issues in a collaborative manner. There was also agreement amongst workshop participants of the need for the renewable energy sector to work collaboratively on these issues and to explore ways of enhancing processes around governing and implementing these community benefit processes.