South Africa is set to see the establishment of eight renewable energy development zones (REDZ) and five power corridors. These REDZs and power corridors are geographical areas where wind and solar PV technologies can be incentivized and where ‘deep’ grid expansion can be directed and where regulatory processes will be streamlined.
The REDZs act as energy generation hubs, and provide anchor points for grid expansion thereby allowing for strategic and proactive expansion of grid into these areas. This will ensure that the grid expansion does not hamper the progress of the renewable energy power purchase agreement process.
The REDZs and Power Corridors support two of the 18 Strategic Integrated Projects (SIPs) which were identified in the country’s Infrastructure Development Plan which is aimed at promoting catalytic infrastructure development to stimulate economic growth and job creation.
To ensure that when required, environmental authorizations are not a cause for delay, the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) embarked on a program of Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEAs) for large-scale developments to support the SIPs. The intention of undertaking SEAs is to pre-assess environmental sensitivities within the proposed development areas at a regional scale to simplify the site specific environmental impact assessments (EIA) when they are undertaken, and to focus the assessment requirements to addressing the specific sensitivity of the site.
The REDZs and power corridors were identified through the development of threeSEAs as part of the department’s SEA program. The outputs of these three SEAs must now be gazetted to allow them to be implemented.
The outputs of the SEAs directly relate to several government priorities including contributing to reducing present current energy constraints by facilitating renewable energy development in strategic areas in South Africa, as well as the renewable energy target. In addition, the SEAs will promote a green economy and sustainable development.
The outcome of the gazetting process will mean that wind and solar PV activities within the eight REDZs and electricity grid expansion within the five Power Corridors will be subjected to a basic assessment and not a full EIA process.This reduces the review and decision making time and the level of assessment required for each project based on the fact that scoping level pre-assessment was already undertaken in those areas. From an application for Environmental Authorization taking 300 days it will now be completed in 147 days.
Once gazetted the SEA reports, the maps locating the REDZs and the power corridors, the development protocols and the integrated authorization process will be made accessible through various government Department websites.