Think it through

IPP investment must have real social impact

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Investment in renewable energy projects must translate into sustainable, real and meaningful impact in the communities where the IPPs (Independent Power Producers programme) are centred, delegates at the African Utility Week and POWERGEN Africa conference and exhibition in Cape Town heard on Thursday 16 May. Yet according to a senior consultant in renewable energy economic development Dr Ric Amansure, this is not always the case.

Various community stakeholders in the IPP programme on Wednesday showcased their work highlighting the difference these projects are making in their lives—most notably the lives of women and children. National Operations Manager of the Field Band Foundation Ushama Jerrier told delegates the Foundation has a database of 7000 children involved in its activities in seven of the nine provinces. The Foundation is based on a youth developmental model that provides positive experiences to children teaching them leadership and help build emotional resilience through band membership and music. “It is an opportunity for children to be part of the change and the joy we bring. So, the IPPs are not just power in the form of neutrons but it rather extends the production of energy to the power of changing lives and that is really powerful,” she said.

Other socio-economic projects showcased ranged from mini chess programmes that help improve numeracy skills among children in the Eastern Cape, the Khobab Wind Farm’s Bursary programme in Loeriesfontein in the Northern Cape and the Lesedi Power Project’s initiative to end ‘period poverty’ by providing sanitary pads to girls in grade 7 to 12 to keep them in school. Many girls forfeit school days monthly because they cannot afford sanitary pads.

Amansure noted that it is important to make sure that the IPPs’ community investments have a real and lasting impact also long after the end of the project lifespan. The sad reality in many cases is that by the time the project finishes, the dynamic on the ground in communities has changed. New people move into the area, so the population grows with a huge impact on increased service delivery. “Suddenly instead of 100 people visiting the clinic daily, there are now 500. This then creates tension between people who are originally from the community and those chasing jobs from surrounding areas (inkommers).” Amansure said this means a huge change in the social dynamics that, if not managed properly, can have a huge impact and put the whole project at risk. “Understanding investment is also about understanding the future of communities and about translating that vision of the community into reality.”

He acknowledged many of these projects may be well intentioned, but they are not necessarily well thought through. “Just look at bursaries and scholarships now being the flavour of the month. It is like the Oprah Show. You get a bursary and you get a bursary, everybody gets a bursary.” According to him there are unintended consequences as many of these young people move away to go study and never return leaving communities with a significant brain drain. “So, what is left is frustration and communities begin to die, local economies stop growing and this can spill over into the bigger project. We all know what happens in South Africa when people get upset – they burn things down.”

Amansure says envisaging the future of that community is part of the investment. He said there are a lot of social issues that will impact on the future of a community and something to remember is to think what that community will have in terms of solar and wind in 20 years’ time.

“What will happen? Will communities revert to their original state or will they be worse off because they now also have these degrading solar panels and holes in the ground where wind turbines once stood?” He also noted unmet job expectations as a consequence. “When these projects first start there is an expectation of jobs, yet with solar and wind projects these jobs are only for two years and for a very limited amount of time. So, what happens after?”

Head of South Africa’s IPP office Karen Breytenbach told delegates the office procured over 102 projects already and 92 have been signed. “If you listen to people you can hear the difference it makes to their lives in the areas where our projects are. And yes, it is not perfect - nothing in the world is perfect and nothing is completely risk free but that is why we are doing it. We want to make a difference and improve what we have.”

Alicestine October

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