South Africa makes it easier to deploy large-scale solar in renewable energy zones

South Africa’s Ministry of Environmental Affairs announced it has simplified the procedure to conduct environmental impact assessment for large-scale PV and wind power projects in the country’s eight Renewable Energy Development Zones (REDZs) or its associated Strategic Transmissions Corridor.

The ministry said in a notice that the procedure of environmental impact assessment (EIA) for utility-scale renewable energy projects, as well as for the related powerlines and substations planned in these areas, has been simplified compared to the full EIA process. Solar and wind project “must follow the basic assessment procedure contemplated in regulation 19 and 20 of the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations, 2014 in order to obtain environmental Authorization”, said the ministry in the document.

The ministry claims that this will reduce 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

The ministry also specified that the reduced timeframe for decision making for large-scale solar and wind in the eight zones will be 57 days. Currently, environmental permits are being granted within a fixed time frame of a maximum of 300 days.

The ministry added that the new streamlined EIA procedure for large-scale solar and wind in the REDZs is aimed at achieving the renewable energy target identified in the Integrated Resource Plan and implementing the renewable energy independent power producers program (REIPPPP) implemented by the Department of Energy and National Treasury.

The South African government introduced the eight Renewable Energy Development Zones (REDZ) and five Power Corridors in February 2016. At the time, the Ministry of Environmental Affairs said these were geographical areas “where wind and solar photovoltaic technologies can be incentivized and where ‘deep’ grid expansion can be directed and where regulatory processes will be streamlined.”

The REDZs and the corridors were identified through the development of 3 Strategic Environmental Assessments as part of the Departments Strategic Environmental Assessment programme.

The eight zones are located in the following regions: Overberg and Kornsberg (Western Cape); Cookhouse and Stromberg (Eastern Cape); Kimberley (Free State and Northern Cape); Vryburg (North West); and Upington and Springbok (Northern Cape).