Small-scale solar plans around South Africa can save farmers thousands in electricity costs and even help to prevent load-shedding, but the government and NERSA are having none of it.
Carte Blanche reported that farmers have the land and the incentive to install small-scale solar farms, which can cover most of their electricity needs.
Excess electricity can also be fed into the South African grid which can help to alleviate load-shedding during times of Eskom shortages.
Dr. Requier Wait, Agri SA Head of Economics and Trade, said farmers have the capacity to generate up to 1,400MW of electricity.
This is enough to power a small-sized city and can even prevent stage 1 load-shedding at times of electricity shortages.
Generating solar power is also good for the farming industry as it lowers the operational cost and prevents problems during load-shedding.
It therefore makes perfect sense for farmers to use solar energy, but there is an obstacle – the government and the National Energy Regulator (NERSA).
Preventing farmers from making the most of solar energy
Farmer Chris Botha invested in a solar plant in 2016 which will give him reliable energy and cut down on his monthly electricity bill of R100,000.
Botha may, however, not link his solar plant to the grid to power his farm and potentially give electricity back to the grid. It is now standing idle.
This is because NERSA has to grant permission to farmers, and this is not happening despite the farmers having submitted their applications months or even years ago.
Energy expert Chris Yelland said NERSA has taken since November 2017 to complete a very simple task – preparing a registration process and publishing it on its website.
NERSA’s HOD for electricity, licensing and dispute resolution, Dennis Seemela responded, saying registration can only happen when all the processes are in place in accordance to the law.
He said NERSA cannot come up with rules without any regulation or notice from the department of energy.
Red tape hurting farmers
The incompetence and red tape from the government and NERSA are hurting farmers, especially those who have invested in solar farms.
They now have to pay off the solar farms without any benefits, because they are prevented from connecting this valuable power source to the grid.
Farmer Cecilia Mendile said they have been waiting for a year for their registration to go through.
This means their R8.1 million investment in the solar plant on their farm remains unused, and load-shedding continues to affect their business.
Unused solar farms
The photos below show two solar farms which are ready to provide electricity to farmers and the South African grid, but which are prevented from doing so because of red tape.