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The Gauteng Infrastructure Financing Agency (GIFA) has identified up to 11 sites in the West Rand area, which the Gauteng provincial government has earmarked for renewable energy plant development.

The sites, made available through partnerships with local mining companies, have been confirmed, through feasibility studies, to have the appropriate topography and solar radiance levels that make them “highly suitable” for solar farm clusters, says GIFA project manager Noxolo Mtembu.

The land earmarked for solar photovoltaic development is not mine-impacted and has the potential to be used for agriculture as well as renewable energy plants. “These sites are all located near connection points to the grid, which should give developers and investors additional confidence,” he says.

Mtembu will be speaking at the three-day Solar Power Africa conference, being held in Cape Town this week, participating in the session – “Being good stewards of the land” and is set to update developers and investors on how provincial governments are turning policy into practice.

The event is organised by Messe Frankfurt in partnership with the South African Photovoltaic Industry Association.

In line with the national policy directives to increase renewable energy sources, the Gauteng provincial government undertook to scope out the appropriate sites and potential energy sources it could leverage. “We wanted to be proactive, using land to its best, whether that be through enhanced agriculture or solar farms,” he explains.

GIFA aims to ensure alternative funding for Gauteng’s strategic infrastructure projects, with the intention of working to translate policy directives into action, understanding the market and needs of potential private sector investors.

Between the different bid windows of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme, the GIFA was able to complete additional environmental assessments for nine of the identified sites. “[This gave] us the confidence that these sites will be successful through the environmental-impact assessment [EIA] process,” says Mtembu.

As such, the GIFA is confident these sites will attract investors and developers looking to increase the opportunity provided through the changes to the wheeling frameworks.

“Now is the time to capitalise on the gazetted amendments to the electricity regulations, enabling municipalities to develop their own power generation projects and these sites are ideal,” he says.

In addition to the nine sites made available to lease by the Gauteng province, there are two additional sites that precious metals miner Sibanye-Stillwater is releasing to the market. With potential to develop plants of 50 MW each, these sites also come with the added benefit of having successfully completed the EIA process, with full planning and permits already in place.

“Opportunities like this do not come about too often. Developers and investors can have confidence that the GIFA has undertaken the appropriate due diligence to ensure these sites have the infrastructure, irradiation and topography to deliver successful solar farms.

“We believe in translating policy into practice in Gauteng. Delivering on the just transition will take government creativity with the private sector to innovate and deliver tangible actions that move policy off the page and into reality,” says Mtembu.

The GIFA will be engaging the market on available sites and lease structuring in the coming months.