Implementation of large-scale wind, solar and hydro projects in South African communities is intended to contribute to local economic development. Government policy, through the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Prog-ramme (REIPPPP), obliges energy companies to share revenue and ownership with local communities, thus providing renewable energy companies with a significant opportunity to position the industry as a significant contributor to community development and thus to the country’s transformation and development agenda. This investigation draws on policy documents and interview data to establish that the policy’s lack of appreciation for existing community development tradition and frameworks, commonly applied in South African development policy and programmes, has weakened its potential. Furthermore, it theoretically positions the emerging practice employed by the renewables industry in the implementation of the REIPPPP requirements, and outlines how existing academic and practical knowledge about community development and company-community relations can provide guidance and support in building an impactful practice.Keywords: community relations and development, REIPPPP, community benefit, project implementation, social performanceHighlights• South Africa is implementing a unique version of pro-poor renewable energy policy. • Industry and local communities and government need to build quality relationships to successfully implement the policy requirements.• The policy and practice ignores established community development traditions and frameworks.• Existing knowledge grounded in South African practice and policy experience can guide the sector’s understanding of and vision for development.