New rules for renewable energy projects in South Africa

 ·7 Dec 2023

Any new renewable project in South Africa must now obtain permission and consent from Eskom to construct new energy projects in proximity to any existing electricity grid infrastructure.

This is according to the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, which published a notice on the amendment of certain requirements for an application for environmental authorisation for a renewable energy facility on Monday (4 December 2023).

“The amendment is necessary to ensure that the full potential of the investment into electricity infrastructure can be realised,” the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment said on Tuesday.

They were published under sections 24(5)(a), 24(5)(b)(i) and 44 of the National Environmental Management Act, 1998 (Act No. 107 of 1998), read with regulation 10(b) of the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations, 2014, as amended.

The amendment requires that a proponent requests and obtains a consent letter from Eskom, or its successor, which confirms that the proposed layout of the facility will not unnecessarily obstruct access to the transmission or distribution infrastructure,” the department said.

The amendment will only apply to new projects, not to any applications submitted before its publication.

The notice outlines that developers must submit the letter of permission as part of their application for environmental authorisation for a proposed project if it is located within a radius of 2km of a main electricity transmission substation or within 1km of a main electricity distribution substation.

If Eskom does not respond to a request for a letter of consent within 45 days, and if the applicant can prove that they have followed up on the matter with Eskom, the department will take it as conclusive evidence that Eskom has no objection to the location.

Speaking to Daily Maverick, the department’s spokesperson said the requirement for a letter of consent from Eskom is to ensure that the layout of both the renewable energy facility and the substation are complementary.

“This requirement will have no impact on any new entrants to the renewable energy sector other than ensuring the best layout of the facility in relation to the substation,” they said.

As it stands, only Gauteng, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal have the capacity for new renewable energy to be added to the grid – with no more capacity in the existing infrastructure for new projects to connect to the grid in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Northern Cape.

Eskom estimates that by 2032, an additional 14,200km of extra-high-voltage lines and 170 transformers will be required to support the new renewable energy-based power generation capacity.

According to Eskom, expanding the power grid will require an estimated amount of R200 billion over the next decade, which the utility currently cannot afford. Therefore, Eskom and the government are seeking private investment to fund the grid expansion.

Read: Major R3 billion solar project breaks ground in South Africa

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