/ 23 August 2023

Mixed reactions to South Africa Renewable Energy Master Plan draft

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The department of mineral resources and energy has hit back at critics who have spoken against its latest draft report on South Africa Renewable Energy Master Plan released in July. (Dean Hutton/Getty Images & Luca Sola/Getty Images)

The department of mineral resources and energy has hit back at critics who have spoken against its latest draft report on South Africa Renewable Energy Master Plan (Sarem) released in July.

The department said critics of the report were prematurely dismissing it before it was finalised.

“Comments received from various stakeholders, including the Green Connection, are receiving undivided attention and will shape the final document. It is premature for any stakeholder to criticise a draft document that is yet to be finalised,” the department said.

This comes after environmental groups accused the department of failing to articulate a vision for renewable energy in its draft report.

The Green Connection’s energy advocacy officer Kholwani Simelane slammed the department’s report, saying it lacked solutions to address energy poverty in the country.

“We cannot have a plan that is meant to guide our society when only a select few have been invited to the decision-making table. The lack of diversity of stakeholders, beyond just big businesses and industries, is plainly evident. 

“Unfortunately, the [draft] does not seem to represent the interests and needs of all South Africans and does not appear to prioritise societal transformation,” she said in a statement.

Simelane added that she was concerned that the draft does not provide solutions that will help the country to alleviate energy poverty.

“While it is important to unpack how transformation will happen, for instance, in the transport sector — such as the adoption of electric vehicles — and exploring the potential of hydrogen and biogas in other areas, the Sarem can only really be viewed as a ‘masterplan’ if it also addresses the pervasive and extensive energy poverty in our country,” she said.

There is also criticism and concern that minister Gwede Mantashe is against renewable energy.

Mantashe has been against moving to renewable energy before stabilising the energy grid, often arguing that renewables, such as solar energy, are incapable of providing efficient power at night or over peak times.

Despite the critics’ opinions, the Presidential Climate Commission in a response argued that the document was a catalytic contribution to our country’s transition “to a net zero carbon future and provides a baseline for social consensus and further detailed planning and implementation of essential projects and programmes to achieve our objectives by 2030”. 

It added that it welcomed the intensive nature of the consultations led by the department working with industry stakeholders, experts, labour and other government departments.

South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA) chief executive Niveshen Govender also supported the master plan, noting that it coincides with the association’s advocacy for sector industrialisation, through more local manufacturing.

“We view the key pillars outlined by the document as effective interventions to create a better environment for local manufacturing, which will no doubt result in increased employment opportunities, investment, social inclusion and acceleration of our industry’s participation in a global wind supply chain,” he said. 

Govender added that the association welcomed the extensive consultation processes taken during the draft comment period. 

“Furthermore, the plan outlines interventions to attract investment and aligns to the different national and international policies of the various government department stakeholders as well as international funding and trade institutions,” he added.

This is despite the environment groups complaining that they were not properly consulted by the department to provide extensive commentary to the draft.

Lamile Khetshemiya, a community leader from Nombanjana in Centane Eastern Cape said that his community was not notified about the Renewable Energy Master Plan meeting that was held in July. 

“It was only by-the-way that we heard there was a meeting, but it is not clear if anyone attended. There was no one from the cooperatives that I am connected to that attended, and it did not appear that any small-scale fishers had any knowledge of it,” Khetshemiya said. 

“This must change. We must become involved.”

Mandisa Nyathi is a climate reporting fellow, funded by the Open Society Foundation for South Africa