Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Minister, Ms Barbara Creecy, has announced initiatives for further streamlining the environmental assessment process for renewable energy projects in South Africa. The announcement was made during a virtual stakeholder engagement.
These measures will improve the efficiency of the environmental assessment processes to facilitate the development of Solar PV and associated infrastructure in areas of low to medium environmental sensitivity.
The initiatives to be implemented will exempt developers from obtaining environmental authorisation for certain listed or specified activities for the development of solar facilities. These initiatives are in addition to the interventions introduced since 2014 to streamline EAs related to renewable energy projects (i.e. gazetting of 11 Renewable Development Zones (REDZ), five 5 electricity transmission corridors and gas corridors as well as the implementation of a Generic Environmental Management Programmes for grid and substation development and expansion). In addition, gazetted Strategic Infrastructure Projects (SIPs) are processed in terms of the legislated 57 days as per the Infrastructure Development Act.
The Standard for the Development and Expansion of Powerlines and Substations in identified geographical areas will be Gazetted for implementation by the end of July 2022. Based on compliance with this Standard the development and expansion of powerlines and substations will be excluded from the need to obtain an EA prior to commencement when developed in areas of low and medium environmental sensitivity as identified by the national environmental screening tool, and within the five strategic electricity corridors. It should be noted that the exclusions will be subject to a registration process which will allow for compliance monitoring.
In August 2022, the Minister will gazette two notices calling for public comment that are aimed at simplifying the deployment of Solar PV facilities.
The registration process will reduce timeframes from 300 days and 147 days respectively to approximately 60 days from inception of the project.
The exclusion of Solar PV facilities from an EA based on compliance with an adopted environmental instrument will be subject to:
The appointment of an independent environmental assessment practitioner and of specialists (agricultural, terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity; cultural heritage and paleontology);
Confirmation of the environmental sensitivity rating through inspection by the various specialists and the preparation of a site sensitivity verification report by the environmental assessment practitioner which confirms the sensitivity rating and compliance with the allowable development limits; and
The preparation of an environmental management programme by the specialists and the environmental assessment practitioner
It will also include the signing of a declaration that the site sensitivity verification report is a true representation of the findings and the site is of medium or low environmental sensitivity for all themes; that there is an environmental management programme in place and that the developer will implement the mitigation measures identified in the environmental management programme.
Additional planned interventions to simplify the environmental authorisation process for renewable energy application will ensure that environmental sensitivities on a potential site are identified alongside the introduction of a rating of site sensitivities in line with the screening tool requirements. These areas will be mapped and located on the environmental screening tool and a generic environmental management programme (EMPr) will be developed for each site.