Community acceptance challenges of renewable energy transitions: A tale of two solar parks in Limpopo, South Africa
Severe problems of climate change, inequality, poverty, and unemployment have compelled the South African government to pass legislation that introduced programmes aimed at achieving energy security, promoting economic development, and realising environmental protection. The Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme objective is to increase the share of renewable sources in the national energy mix, deliver jobs and economic empowerment for black communities (Africans, Coloureds, and Indians) and cut harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Independent power producers (IPPs) must demonstrate that their projects contribute to job creation and broad-based black economic empowerment during the bidding process. To date, studies suggest that IPPs are missing this government target. This study investigated this phenomenon through face-to-face interviews with key informants involved in the IPP process at two solar parks in Limpopo province. Qualitative content analysis was used to analyse and interpret the field notes. Findings reveal that the process of involving local communities in the governance of the IPP process is highly fragmented, leaving room for powerful stakeholders to thrive over vulnerable community members. The lack of monitoring by the government IPP office enables a prominent not-for-profit organisation to abscond from its responsibility of setting up a community trust for the benefit of local residents. Also, limited skills in the local communities mean that young people are employed in low-paying construction jobs that end after project commissioning. Lack of awareness and knowledge about IPP commitments made during the bidding process are responsible for the ‘wait and see’ approach of local leaders and community members. In the short-term, awareness and capacity-building interventions for local leaders and community members are urgently required to conscientise beneficiaries. It is imperative to create a participatory governance framework that prioritises vulnerable stakeholders as a long-term solution.
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