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What is George Municipality doing to alleviate ESKOM Loadshedding – and other renewable energy projects

Executive Mayor Leon Van Wyk acknowledges the challenges being faced by the Business and Agricultural Sectors currently with regard to the energy crisis. “We are fully aware that numerous business operations in and around George require consistency in the provision of electricity during certain hours of the day or on a 24-hour basis. These needs have shaped the municipal philosophy to alleviate Stage 1 (up to 2 hours per day) and Stage 2 (up to 4 hours per day) of loadshedding as soon as possible to provide greater security of supply for these sectors.

George Municipality agrees that the current loadshedding is nothing short of a crisis, but reminds residents that the municipality is not responsible for loadshedding and has no option but to implement as received. The municipality’s ability to generate power for use of our residents is limited but we are actively working on reducing our daily energy requirements from ESKOM.

George uses at peak times up to 85MVA per day. So, if the municipality can reduce our own consumption of energy by 10% (between 8MW and 10MW) continuously,  we should be able to apply to EKSOM to relieve us of Stage 1 and 2 Loadshedding.  This will also assist us in achieving our goal of reducing internal electricity costs and increasing sustainability. The priority goal will be that the city and its residents will then be freed of at least one stage , that is two hours, of loadshedding. This is however not a quick fix, and currently the plan is that for the calendar year 2023., the municipality will add 3MW of own energy and before December 2024 another 9MW should be commissioned into the system.

Director for Electro-technical Services, Bongani Mandla explains that George Municipality is implementing a three-pronged operational approach to significantly reduce our reliance on energy supply from Eskom.

“This approach has three focus areas; one being Energy Efficiency, another Own-Build Programme, and finally the procurement of energy from Independent Power Producers (IPPs). The highly unreliable supply of energy, coupled with the ever-increasing tariffs and the high cost of diesel has forced George Municipality to implement some of its plans earlier than initially intended. The expediting of the plans is driven by the city’s urgent need to relieve its residents from Stage 2 loadshedding in the next 18 to 24 months and subsequently off Stage 4 loadshedding within 36 months.

In order to achieve this much needed reduction of loadshedding,  the city has already started its Own-Build programme, which is intended to deliver around 30MW of energy into the grid over the next 36 months, subject to feasibility studies and environmental approval. The city is working hard to ensure that at least 10MW is delivered by this programme within the next 18 months, as most of the smaller projects have passed the basic environmental assessment, whilst the 9MW PV Solar Plant is nearing the final stage of the Environmental Impact Assessment approval process.

George issued a Request for Proposal from IPPs and received overwhelming support in terms of potential technologies available,  as well as options available to supply between 30 and 40MW. A phased approach of IPP procurement will be followed to ensure that the city is able to secure between 30 to 40 MW from this programme within the next 36 months. Once both IPP procurement and Own-Build delivers energy to the grid, the reliance of the city on the Eskom network would be significantly reduced. The implementation of our ongoing energy efficiency projects will further reduce this reliance.”

What has George implemented to assist residents during loadshedding
Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) units at a cost of approximately R3.6 million have been installed at 56 of the main traffic intersections. These units, which are eco-friendly and energy-saving, automatically kick in and operate the traffic lights should the electricity supply be interrupted for any reason for at least 2- 4 hours, before the battery needs recharging. This means that traffic intersections in George are free from Eskom’s loadshedding and unplanned power outages for the durability of the batteries, thereby allowing seamless traffic flow.

George Municipality has also out of necessity, installed large generators at a number of our pump stations, 30 at sewer pump stations and 5 at various Water Treatment Works, in order to keep water flowing and sewerage pumpstations operational during loadshedding. Our Civil Engineering Services department is in the process of a water and sewer pump station audit which will confirm any future requirements.

What has George already implemented already to reduce own energy consumption
The municipality commissioned a PV Plant as a pilot project for the main municipal building in September 2021. The 300kWp (kilowatt peak) solar plant at the Civic Centre parking lot helps keep systems going during loadshedding and produces on average 41 500 kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy a month which supplies the Civic Centre building. The excess flows into the grid and supplies the neighbouring houses, residents, and businesses.  The total production is an average of 500 000kWh of energy per year.

A battery energy storage system(BESS) will be installed by the end of July 2023 for the Civic Centre, which will allow for the plant to continue to generate energy even during loadshedding and for the storage system to support the supply to the building when the Eskom network is not available.  All of the George municipal buildings have had energy efficient lights installed, as well as over 111 energy efficient air conditioners. A number of buildings are scheduled for rooftop PV solar in the 2023/24 financial year, and the preparatory work and studies are underway to have all of our municipal buildings self-sufficient by December 2026.

Over the past few years, a total of 5583 streetlights (Compact Fluorescent Lamps, High Pressure Sodium and Mercury Vapour) have been replaced by light-emitting diodes (LED)at a cost of R14 501 513 (Municipal and EEDSM Funding). This phased-in approach will continue until we have replaced or retrofitted all streetlights to LED in the upcoming financial years. Not only do the LEDs reduce the amount of energy used, but they also have a longer lifespan and require less maintenance. The funding for this project is mostly sourced from the Energy Efficiency Demand Side Management programme (EEDSM) managed by the Department of Energy (DOE).

Battery Energy Storage to counter high cost of running generators
George Municipality has out of necessity installed large generators at 30 Sewer Pump Stations and 5 at Water Treatment Works  at a cost of approximately R52 million, in order to keep water flowing and sewerage pumpstations operational during loadshedding.  A further 8 are in process of being procured at a cost of approximately R27 million rand and which includes the two 1250kVa for the Garden Route Dam.  The costs of running these generators are exorbitant and currently totals approximately R148 000 per day in fuel alone at Stage 4, with the fuel costs even higher when Stage 5 and 6 are implemented.

Battery energy  storage is planned for all the Water and Waste-Water Treatment Plants as well as the Sewer Pump stations  in order to reduce the diesel costs. The Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) deployment is being fast-tracked to save costs over the long run. The intention is to deploy BESS of more than 100MWh for the city using a phased-in approach. The city is currently in the process of feasibility studies for the BESS deployment, to assess the technical, environmental, economic and practical feasibility for installation and integration into the distribution network. These studies will further inform the city on the deployment strategy to undertake as it strives to reduce reliance from Eskom.

What projects are underway or due to start this year and are funded by municipal own funds
Four PV Solar Projects are due to start this year and on completion will power loads with energy generated from a clean and renewable source. These projects will be funded from various streams, including municipal own funding, external loans as well as grant funding where applicable.

  1. The Outeniqua Wastewater Treatment facility will receive a 400 kWp PV plant. The tender has been awarded and the contractor will start this month. This plant will start physical construction mid-February and the date of commission is end June 2023.
  2. The Gwaing Wastewater Treatment facility will receive a 500 kWp PV plant. This tender will need to be re-advertised due to no suppliers meeting the technical requirements. The commission date will be delayed to December 2023.
  3. The Denneoord New Waterworks Facility will receive a 400 kWp PV plant. The outstanding approvals have been received, the preparatory work has been started with the plan to commission the site by March 2024.
  4. The municipality will build a 1000 kWp or 1 MWp solar farm on Erf 464. The tender for this project is currently at the award stage and it is expected that contractors will be appointed by February 2023. The plant will be commissioned by the end of September 2023 and the power will be connected to the grid to reduce the municipal bulk purchases.

When do you need an EIA to proceed with a renewable energy project?
In terms of the Department of Environmental Affairs, Environmental Impact Assessment(EIA) guideline for Renewable Energy Projects, the development of facilities or infrastructure for the generation of electricity from a renewable resource which has an electricity output of more than 1 megawatts (>1MW); and/or if the output is less than 1 megawatts but the total extent of the facility covers an area in excess of 1 hectare, require an EIA to proceed. This excludes where the  development of the  facilities or infrastructure is for photovoltaic installations and occurs within an urban area. The triggers for the EIA include land degradation, habitat loss, water use, hazardous materials, noise, visual issues, electromagnetics and aircraft interference.

What is the status of those George projects that still require EIAs?
The 9 MW PV Solar Plant project requires additional Environmental Impact Assessment(EIA) approval. The funding is part of the three-year Medium-Term Revenue and Expenditure Framework budget.  Specialist reports have been prepared and the final submission for the EIA will be submitted at the end of March 2023. A Public Participation process will be required and concurrently the tender process which means that construction should start in 2024 should all approvals be received.

Looking ahead and the funding required
Executive Mayor Leon Van Wyk noted that Eskom’s inability to ensure reliability in electricity supply has necessitated the development of a municipal strategy to secure alternative renewable energy for George as rapidly as possible. “Our approach has been to urgently address consistent electricity provision to our own infrastructure while at the same time providing relief for key stakeholders in the economy. Energy therefore receives constant attention as we continue in our quest to attract investment and employment into our economy. We also welcome engagements to discuss the challenges and potential solutions from IPPs and others.”

The city has embarked on various investigations which includes the building of a Solar PV Plant capable of generating 30 MW. The project is amongst those which are undergoing feasibility studies in order to identify and establish the practicality, as well as find innovative means of circumventing the space requirements. This utility scale project coupled with a Utility Scale BESS will cost in the region of R1,250 billion. The renewable projects Own-Build programme will cost the city around R2 billion, and George Municipality is continuously engaging various funding institutions both nationwide and internationally to source external funding to assist with covering  the bulk of these costs.

Where does George stand on paying cash for power fed back into local grid?
George Municipality has a Small Scale Embedded Generation (SSEG) Feed-in tariff in place which, where the network allows, the customer can be credited for the energy that is fed back to the grid, if they are a NET Consumer. In other words, if they do not feedback more than their total usage. In terms of the George Municipal policy the consumers bill will be credited with the amount of Feed-in energy as per the Tariff list. This will be done with the provision that the amount of credit may not exceed the total Rand value of energy purchased from the Council in the financial year.

There are a number of customers who are already on the correct tariff to feed-in to the Municipal grid, and they are getting 90% of the Eskom cost as a credit against their bill. This is one of the best feed-in tariffs nationally and is available for both Industrial, Commercial and Residential Consumers.  If a customer has installed a much larger system and wants to feed power back to the municipality beyond their total energy requirements, a Municipal procurement process is required and this is where the City of Cape Town (CoCT) has recently received approval for a deviation process which allows it to start paying cash back for power fed into the local electricity grid.

The CoCT was granted an exemption from National Treasury from having to undertake a competitive bidding process, as current legislation does not allow for a city to procure energy without following a competitive bidding process. George Municipality will need to have a similar approved deviation in place and the Electro-technical department is reviewing how this will be practically implemented in George if we were to follow the same approach as CoCT, given the diverse distribution network differences.

George Municipality also has a Wheeling Policy and Process in place, which allows for wheel of power using the municipal grid. Customers who wish to invest in alternative energy, should ensure that the system complies with the applicable regulations and is approved by the Municipality prior to commissioning.