This article has been prepared by our colleagues in Johannesburg to provide an update on energy-related matters in South Africa.
The Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries appears to be taking proactive measures to expedite the regulatory processes which underpin the development of energy related infrastructure. On 17 July 2020, Minister Creecy, the Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (the “Minister”), published various notices commencing public consultations on the intention to identify geographical areas important for the development of:
- strategic gas transmission pipeline infrastructure (GN 788, GG 43528);
- electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure (GN 787, GG 43528); and
- large scale wind and solar photovoltaic energy facilities (GN 786, GG 43528).
Obtaining environmental authorisations under the National Environmental Management Act, 1998, (“NEMA”) for energy projects and associated infrastructure including pipelines and transmission lines is often perceived to be one of the lengthier regulatory hurdles contributing to the delay in such projects. The draft notices envisage that the development and operation of gas pipelines and electricity grid infrastructure within the finalised project corridors (which will have been assessed in terms of an overarching strategic environmental impact assessment) will either be:
- exempted from the environmental authorisation requirement on the basis that these projects will be required to comply with other environmental management measures such as Norms and Standards, Environmental Management Programmes or Protocols; or
- subject to the shorter basic assessment process rather than a full scoping and environmental impact assessment.
Minister Creecy’s notice calling for consultation on the identification of geographical areas which are important for the development large scale wind and solar photovoltaic energy facilities (GN 786, GG 43528) indicates an intention to identify a further 3 Renewable Energy Development Zones (“REDZ”) which are proposed to fall within Emalahleni, Klerksdorp and Beaufort West, two of which areas are home to significant mining activities. These will be in addition to the 8 REDZ already identified in 2018 (GN 114, GG41445 of 16 February 2018), located in Overberg, Komsberg, Cookhouse, Stormberg, Kimberly, Vryburg, Upington, and Springbok. In essence, the benefit of the REDZ is that renewable energy projects within these areas need only undertake the shorter basic assessment process rather than full scoping and environmental impact assessment. Simultaneously, the Minister also published a separate notice regarding her intention to amend the procedures to be followed in relation to environmental authorisation applications for large scale wind and solar photovoltaic renewable energy development activities when occurring in REDZ (GN 785, GG 43528).
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Members of the public have until 16 August 2020 to submit comments. Please let Mandy Hattingh or Justine Sweet know should you require any assistance.