Energy-generation projects raise hopes of job creation and an end to electricity outages, writes Lubabalo Ngcukana
Renewable energy production has stabilised electricity supply in the Eastern Cape and will, for the first time, keep the lights on throughout winter.
Sakhumzi Somyo, MEC for economic development, environmental affairs and tourism, said the province supported and implemented energy-generation strategies centred on renewable energy programmes.
The province was one of the worst-hit by power outages nationally because of load shedding schedules – the result of a strained national grid that caused havoc, especially in the automotive industry, which forms the backbone of the Eastern Cape economy.
Renewable energy production has resulted in a number of jobs being created and boosted the province’s economy by supporting small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs).
“Through the Independent Power Producers Programme, R33.7 billion worth of renewable energy investments are being injected into the provincial economy, with the potential of creating 18 132 job years,” said Somyo.
A job year is an estimate of the number of full-time equivalent jobs lasting one year.
However, DA shadow MEC Ross Purdon said it was misleading for Somyo to mention 18 000 job years when the figures were not a certainty but a mere projection.
“It is a potential thing ... It is a misleading statement, because you cannot guarantee these jobs,” he argued.
Renewable energy investments are also geared towards servicing the province’s industrial development zones, namely the East London Industrial Development Zone and Coega Industrial Development Zone in Port Elizabeth.
Somyo said that the East London zone would be embarking on four renewable energy projects in the 2016/17 financial year with an investment value of R2.1 billion.
Ayanda Ramncwana, a spokesperson for East London’s development zone, said the four ventures consisted of two energy-generation projects – a 1.8 megawatt wind farm and a 2MW to 3MW biomass facility – as well as a solar panel component manufacturing plant, and a technology and skills development project.
Ramncwana said the first three projects would be funded through the special economic zones fund.
Somyo said these projects were expected to create a further 1 277 jobs during the construction phase and 450 direct jobs when operational.
He added that during the 2016/17 financial year, the East London zone would be rolling out its implementation of grid-simulation labs within the renewable centre of excellence, which is funded by the Development Bank of Southern Africa.
“This will enable the upskilling of artisans, particularly in construction, and the maintenance of various renewable projects,” he said.
He said the R3.5 billion Dedisa peaking power plant – built to service the Coega development zone – had created about 1 490 job opportunities, reached its full commercial operation of 335MW in September and was contributing electricity into the national grid.
The Dedisa plant uses open cycle gas turbine technology, which runs on costly diesel, but plans are afoot to convert it to a gas-fired power plant.
The MEC also announced that the University of Fort Hare had joined the renewable energy programme with the construction of a 180 kilowatt biogas digester, at a cost of R9 million, that will convert piggery waste to gas and electricity at the university.
The project is 75% complete.
Somyo, who is also finance MEC in the province, called on black entrepreneurs to move from the “periphery of the energy value chain” and get involved.
“We must see [black entrepreneurs engaged] in the manufacture and supply of renewable energy requirements – including wind and solar components – supporting electrical infrastructure and other civil works,” Somyo said.
He said his department would continue to roll out its support programme to SMMEs in the energy sector.
The project is in its third phase and has engaged 330 of such prospective enterprises, and provided follow-up support to 16 selected ones that secured more than R17 million in contracts within and outside the energy sector.
The DA’s Purdon said that economic growth was needed in the province to create jobs.
“Any new investments in our province are welcome ... Government has to create infrastructure for potential investment, cut the red tape and encourage investors to come to the province,” he said.
However, he warned that in pursuing renewable energy – which is key to the country’s nonreliance on coal – the environment should not be compromised for short-term gain.
He added that SMMEs should be supported as they had the potential to create jobs.