The South African government is moving to exclude solar photovoltaic (PV) and battery storage facilities from the requirement to obtain environmental authorisation in areas where the environmental sensitivity is officially classified to be medium to low.
Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Minister Barbara Creecy is seeking public comment on the plan, which is outlined in a Government Gazette notice, indicating that the exclusion has been proposed in terms of Section 24(2)(d) of the National Environmental Management Act, 1998 (Nema) and applies subject to compliance with a prescribed ‘norm’ developed in terms of 24(10) of Nema.
This ‘norm’ makes it possible to exclude the development and expansion of solar PV and battery facilities from environmental impact assessment regulations in areas of low or medium environmental sensitivity.
Such projects will be subject to a site-sensitivity verification and will also need to comply with a site-specific environmental management programme and a registration process.
The department has developed a Web-based screening tool to identify environmental sensitivities of a specific geographical location or site related to various identified environmental themes.
The proposed exclusion comes amid frequent and intense power cuts and an assessment hat South Africa needs to add about 6 000 MW of new generation capacity to close the supply/demand gap and create space for higher levels of maintenance of Eskom’s unreliable coal fleet.
It also follows a decision to termite a state of disaster declare in respect of the electricity crisis and to, instead, take actions using existing legislation and regulation.
“This is in line with the sector’s ongoing efforts to simplify the environmental legislative impact assessment framework for energy projects whilst ensuring that environmental protection is not compromised,” the department said in a statement, adding that the intention of the proposed exclusions is to improve the efficiency of the environmental assessment process.
“In addition, these exclusions intend to simplify the deployment of solar PV and battery storage facilities, to expedite the generation of electricity from renewable energy resources, facilitate the distribution of this generation capacity and contribute to addressing the existing electricity shortages currently being experienced by the country.”
The Gazette states that written comments should be made within 30 days of publication of on the notice, which is dated April 14.