Neglecting communities a potential disaster in renewable energy sector

An expert says this may also result in protest action like those on service delivery issues where infrastructure gets destroyed.

Neglecting local communities as important stakeholders in the multibillion-rand renewable energy sector may also result in protest action like those on service delivery issues where infrastructure gets destroyed.

Ric Amansure, an expert involved in research about the impact of renewable energy projects on communities, told delegates at the African Utility Week conference in Cape Town that failing to include and inform local communities about multibillion-rand renewable energy, may result in a similar “Marikana incident” for the renewable energy sector.

Enabling economic transformation and job creation through energy generation projects came under the spotlight at the three-day conference and exhibition this week.

Amansure was part of a panel discussion by industry experts on how to best achieve transformation and job creation through generation programmes.

He had referred to the Renewable Energy Independent Producer Programme (REIPPP), and said the very communities this programme was supposed to empower, often did not know what was going on.

“Nobody tells them that they are shareholders in these projects, that there is a socioeconomic development component to the project and should benefit for 20 years.”

The expert further said that even municipal officials often do not understand what REIPPPP is.

“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,” he warned, referencing the 2012 incident where police gunned down dozens of miners who had been protesting in the platinum sector in the North West province.

Kaco New Energy Africa chief executive, Christoph Heinemann, agreed that locals were often excluded and questioned the principle of “power to the people”.

“Suppliers prefer bigger projects, and the bigger the project the easier it is to keep people out.” Heinemann proposed a more decentralised approach to bring power generation closer to people.

“There is a huge opportunity with smaller systems to include more people and it is much easier to train people in the community than a more centralised approach,” he argued.

The African Utility Week conference ends on Thursday.

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