Communication failure on SA renewable energy projects could result in 'Marikana moment' - expert

2018-05-17 14:44
These parabolic mirrors reflect the sun's light to a solar tower. (Abengoa)

These parabolic mirrors reflect the sun's light to a solar tower. (Abengoa)

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Unless communities are engaged in renewable energy projects, the results could be as tragic as the Marikana massacre, an expert warned.

Speaking at African Utility Week in Cape Town, Dr Ric Amansure urged industry officials to keep communities engaged in the status of renewable energy projects.

"Nobody tells them (communities) that they are shareholders in these projects; that there is a socio-economic development component to the project and they should benefit for 20 years," Amansure told delegates in a panel discussion on energy transformation.

READ: SA falling behind on renewable energy

Several renewable energy projects are coming online as the government seeks to enhance clean energy production and mitigate the effects of climate change from coal power plant greenhouse gas emissions.

The shift has angered some union representatives, who fear job losses and Amansure warned that continued engagement was key to driving sustainable growth in the sector.

"The information sharing is just not there to be open and honest with the communities on why there is a need for things like wind solar parks and how they will benefit.

"If we fail to deal with this issue, we will see another 'Marikana' happening in the renewable energy space," said Amansure.

On August 16, 2012, 34 mine workers died and 112 were injured during a protest over salaries at the Lonmin mine in Marikana, about 80km west of Pretoria.

Objections

A number of renewable energy projects are under way as SA looks to accelerate development of clean energy, but an expert warned that locations far away from urban centres posed a risk for the developments.

"The transmission of electricity as such is independent of the way in which it is generated. However, of more concern from a South African perspective is the location of typical CSP plants relative to existing electricity transmission lines," Dr Matti Lubkoll, who teaches Solar Thermal Energy at Stellenbosch University, told News24 about a solar thermal plant based in the Northern Cape.

South Africa's National Development Plan calls for 20 000MW (megawatts) of renewable electricity by 2030 and the decommissioning 11 000MW of ageing coal-fired power stations.

READ: Numsa accuses Greenpeace of insulting workers

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) has vowed to block the R56bn deal the government signed with independent power producers (IPP) to produce green electricity.

"Given the current renewable energy IPPs that are already in production and in planning (this includes the 27 renewable energy projects that must still be signed), at least 100 000 full-time equivalent jobs would be created, through the current private renewable energy projects alone," Happy Khambule, Greenpeace Africa's senior political advisor recently told News24.

The South Africa Photovoltaic Industry Association welcomed the signing of the IPP contracts, saying they "will indeed boost and revitalise long-term investor confidence", create more than 61 000 jobs and add 2 305MW of capacity to the national grid.

Numsa dismissed renewable energy projects as effective job creators.

"We have heard these empty promises before. The majority of the existing renewable energy companies do not employ large numbers of workers, compared to Eskom," Numsa acting national spokesperson Phakamile-Hlubi Majola said recently.

"And our experience is that they certainly do not offer the same salary, benefits or an improvement in working conditions. Numsa will not be misled into supporting a policy which is potentially disastrous for workers and their families."

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, employment in the global renewable energy sector experienced a marginal increase of 1.1% in 2017 to 9.8 million people.

As his thesis, Amansure published "A Theoretical Model of Revenue Management for Beneficiary Communities of South African Renewable Energy Companies".

In it, he called for industry transformation focused on human development and engagement from local government on community needs and development plans, among others.

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