Following the receipt of numerous media requests, the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries would like to clarify that any renewable energy developments within identified zones in South Africa will still require an environmental authorization.
The publication in July 2020 of Government Notices calling for comment related to the procedures when applying for an environmental authorisation for the development of renewable energy in South Africa does not exempt any industry from the environmental authorization process.
On the 31 July 2020 the Department published a series of Government Notices that dealt with a number of different aspects.
The first set of Notices dealt with procedures when submitting an application for an environmental authorisation for the development of:
gas transmission pipelines when developed within Strategic Gas Pipeline Corridors;
large scale wind and solar PV installations when developed within Renewable Energy Development Zones; and
electricity grid infrastructure when developed within Renewable Energy Development Zones.
The proposals streamline the process to allow these developments to follow a Basic Assessment process rather than a Scoping and Environmental Impact Assessment process.
The timeframes in which the Department is to take decisions on such applications has also been reduced from 107 days to 57 days. This is because the proactive site sensitivity work has already been undertaken through two two-and-a-half-year Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) processes. These determined the environmental sensitivity of each of the zones and corridors.
The second set of Government Notices published on the 31 July 2020 related to:
the proposed adoption of a Generic Environmental Management Programme (Empire) for Gas Transmission Pipeline Infrastructure (2020) relevant to an application for environmental authorisation for gas transmission pipeline infrastructure and
the adoption of a standard for the development of electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure within identified geographical areas and the exclusion of this infrastructure from the requirement to obtain an environmental authorisation.
This generic EMPr is intended to replace the need for a site specific environmental management programme when implemented. The developer is still required to undertake an EIA process and to commit to implementing the provisions of the generic EMPr. It will be an offence should they not do so.
The exclusion of the expansion of electricity grid within the pre-assessed strategic corridors is based on the fact that the country has been developing grid infrastructure for many years and the impacts and mitigation measures are well known and exclusion will be based on the adherence to the standard and failure to comply with the standard is an offence. The standard has been developed by environmental specialists and includes a public consultation and appeal process for each project. The standard will reduce the timeframe between conceptualising a grid expansion project to its implementation, and means that energy can be provided to the user faster or on time in the case of new renewable energy developments.
The last set of four Notices published in July dealt with the consultation on the adoption of a generic environmental management programme (EMPr) for the management and mitigation of environmental impacts resulting from the implementation of the Working for (Wetlands, Ecosystems, Water and LandCare) projects, and the exclusion of these projects from the requirement to obtain environmental authorization on the basis that each project follows the requirement contained in the EMPr. These projects related to the the eradication of invasive plant species, and the rehabilitation of wetlands, ecosystems and degraded community farming land and the exclusion is for these projects only.
It should be noted that the proposed exclusion of the Working for programmes from the need to obtain environmental authorisation is based on the fact that they all have rehabilitation objectives, and are implemented through the Expanded Public Works Programme which has a low impact on the environment. Because the programmes have been implemented for over 10 years, the impacts and mitigation measures employed are well-known and a full assessment process for each project is therefore not necessary.
None of these initiatives have been implemented as they are in the consultation phase.
It should be noted by participants of the Dear South Africa campaign that input into Departmental process is welcomed, but information presented to the public should be accurate. The Department values constructive, informed and cordial engagement.