The Rationale for Concentrated Solar Power Development in South Africa
During the winter of 2004, South Africa’s demand for electricity started challenging Eskom’s (South Africa’s state-owned power utility) reserve margins, and more continuously from mid-2007. Despite attempts to implement energy efficiency and demand-side management, the sharp increase in demand necessitated the implementation of load shedding during the first quarter of 2008. This provoked a concerted action by the South African government to increase the supply of electricity generation into the national grid, partially by broadening the base for electricity generation in South Africa. Policy changes and key strategic developments such as the deregulation of generation capacity were introduced to allow for the establishment of independent power producers and to incentivize private sector participation in the energy sector. These events also coincided with the rise of global concerns about climate change and concerted international action toward low carbon economies. South Africa committed itself to reduce its coal-generated electricity consumption and its carbon footprint.
Our Client’s Challenge
In order for CSP facilities to be feasible, clear blue skies with little cloud cover, water vapour and dust are required. The Northern Cape region has a high concentration of solar energy and ranks among some of the best solar statistics in the world.
To help convert the region’s plentiful sunlight into a reliable source of energy, WSP was appointed by Group Five, a South African integrated construction services, material and infrastructure investment company, to undertake the environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) for the Kalahari Solar Power (KSP) project and facilitate stakeholder engagement. The ESIA was undertaken on the basis of a solar power facility on a 1,922 hectare greenfield site, near the town of Kathu, a mining town with a strong infrastructure network located in the Northern Cape region of South Africa. The project was aligned with the country’s commitments to reduce CO2 emissions by 34% by 2020 (Copenhagen Accord, 2010), satisfied its need to diversify its energy mix, and had the potential to make a significant contribution to the country’s electricity stabilization, thus improving the reserve margin, reducing transmission losses and further decreasing load shedding.
Environmental authorization through a full ESIA process needed to be carried out in accordance with national environmental legislation and in compliance with international financial institutions’ guidelines for social and environmental appraisal. The objectives of the ESIA process were to, among others, assess the nature, extent, duration, probability and significance of the identified potential environmental, social and cultural impacts, as well as detail the stakeholder engagement process and appropriate mitigation measures for each significant impact of the proposed KSP project.
To support the objectives, our team carried out a number of detailed and specialized studies to determine the most appropriate solar power technologies and identify the power generation and power line routing to be used; site selection, shape and size of the development, and the necessary steps to mitigate their environmental impact. Other issues were also earmarked as potentially relevant for stakeholders. These included water supply, air quality/dust contamination on the site; housing, accommodation and contractor labour camps, as well as socioeconomic, safety and security issues.
Some of the key issues and concerns raised during the project’s scoping and ESIA phases included:
- Sources of water supply to the project and the impacts thereof on other water sources and water users in the area
- Amount of water required during the construction and operational phases of the project
- Stormwater management for the site
- Impacts on the Kathu Forest, a National Heritage Site, and on Camelthorn trees on the property
- Socioeconomic benefits of the project
- Impacts on other land uses and land users
- Impacts of project-generated noise
- Dust impacts on neighbours
- Visual impacts of the project
- Impacts of the project on potential areas of archaeological significance
- Impacts on public infrastructure – housing, services, schools
- Details of future planning of the site and infrastructure after decommissioning including upgrading of technologies
- Impacts associated with the potential spillage or leakage of heat transfer fluid
In order to ensure compliance with the applicable national legislation, WSP undertook the stakeholder consultation process in a diligent manner. We carried out additional actions—a social scan and informal engagement meetings—to ensure that the largest portion of interested and/or affected persons had the opportunity to raise all issues, concerns and questions, and were informed and continuously updated of the progress of the meeting.
The identification and registration of stakeholders was an ongoing activity during the course of this study. WSP developed and maintained an electronic database for the duration of the project where stakeholder details were captured and automatically updated as and when information was received.
In response to the issues and concerns raised during the stakeholder consultation process, the following specialist studies were commissioned as part of the ESIA process:
- Desktop soil, land use and land capability review
- Biodiversity and ecological assessment
- Hydrological and geohydrological assessment
- Air quality assessment
- Traffic impact assessment
- Visual impact assessment
- Noise assessment
- Cultural heritage assessment
- Socioeconomic impact assessment
- Health, safety and community security planning
The Result of Integrating Biophysical and Socioeconomic Factors
WSP’s South African office submitted a Scoping Report in November 2010 as well as an ESIA Report and draft Environmental and Social Management Program (ESMP) in support of the authorization application for the proposed project. The ESIA Report provided detailed and comprehensive description of the proposed project, stakeholder engagement process, environmental impacts and proposed management and mitigation measures associated with the development of the KSP project.
In summary, the ESIA and ESMP assessed both biophysical and socio-economic environments and identified appropriate management and mitigation measures. The biophysical impact assessment revealed that there were no environmental fatal flaws and no significant negative impacts associated with the proposed project should mitigation and management measures be implemented. In addition, it should be noted that the overall socioeconomic impacts associated with the project were positive and included the creation of job opportunities and contributions to the local, regional and national economies.
Project Update (May 2017) – On December 15, 2014, the development of the project was awarded to a consortium comprised of Engie, the Government Employees Pension Fund (PIC), SIOC Community Development Trust, Development Bank of Southern Africa Limited, Investec Bank Limited, Lereko Metier and the Kathu Trust. The Kathu Solar Park began construction on May 26, 2016. The Project has come to a fast start to construction in the seven months in 2016. The Project has completed clearing of the 450 ha site and is nearing final completion of the ground works.