The question is how do we ensure communities engagement is happening in the fight against energy poverty? What could be immediate steps to take? Our research report came up with 5 recommendations for local government:
- Establish an energy solutions working group,
- improve communication and education,
- set up mobile demonstration units,
- create community liaison initiatives and
- start a pilot project in one community.
On the 19th November 2020, Project 90 invited a variety of experts from the city and community as well as other representatives working on energy poverty to comment on the research and these recommendations.
A councillor from the City of Cape Town raised the importance of the Integrated Development Plan (IDP), a 5-year plan that gets revised and amended every year, as a means to implement energy related changes. Only if added to the IDP they attract budget. “If something is not in the IDP it cannot be done”.
Micro-grids are a possible option for many communities. The issue of who will pay for installation and the upkeep needs to be solved. In the meantime, hot boxes and solar lamps could be an alternative to provide more energy access for communities. He also said that the City can do more if civil society groups get organised so that by the beginning of the new term of the IDP in August 2021, there is a united push to have provisions for energy justice and transition. Following the meeting, a collective to bring ideas into the IDP is currently underway, and will be launched in 2021.
The reaction by community representatives was that electricity is becoming more and more unaffordable, each time there are hikes in price of electricity it upsets communities. They can barely survive now and cannot cope with the rapid hikes in price. In the discussion a community worker expressed that especially women are the ones that feel it first and, in many cases, because they run the households they must deal with the problems. The social grant is not sufficient for families to buy enough food and electricity, so women must make tough choices in what they buy.
People want and deserve access to electricity. Energy efficiency measures like hot boxes are part of the solution but should not detract from the key objective which is the need to push for access to affordable electricity for all.
At the moment not much is happening in the communities in the indigent sector. The community representatives asked the city to create better awareness programmes that includes all indigent households and gives room for information exchange and debate. The IDP process needs to be better explained and make better provisions of including people’s voices.
It was acknowledged that the City of Cape Town and the province have done a tremendous amount of work, but the communication of that work is sometimes misrepresented and could be improved. But there are some initiatives in the City of Cape Town that try to engage more effectively with communities by understanding their situation.
These initiatives offer some lessons learnt for further engagement processes:
- A simple data collection is not the most reliable source of information. Instead, we need to work with community members in each community to establish what their ideals are for their community as well as their challenges.
- Money and resources are needed to build trust and raise awareness.
- Communities are not homogenous, and they know their context better than anyone else, so the only way to understand the context is by learning from its residents.
- It is important to involve the community from the beginning of the decision-making process. Their input on the design of potential solutions to resolve the challenges at hand is crucial.
- Government needs to make use of careful and good facilitation to ensure that engagement does not create unrealistic expectations
- Engagement is a long-term process. Things cannot go from bad to good overnight, there are a series of injustices that we must combat on our path to a just transition.
- And finally, nothing works without an enabling framework that encourages active citizenry, as well as cooperation with the private sector.