[Letter] One-stop energy shop will cause more problems

SA’s state institutions may best be described as beset with red tape, perpetually offline systems as a result of load-shedding, long queues, and even longer processing times. Despite the urgency for additional energy generation from the private sector to lessen load-shedding and the energy crisis, companies seeking approval and permits to generate electricity are burdened with long-waiting times and an unnecessarily long administrative process. These are the two key obstacles to independent energy generation.

To improve the process, the government has launched a “one-stop energy shop” (EOSS). In addition to the EOSS, an Energy Resilience Fund (ERF) will be launched as well to streamline the administrative channel. This “shop” aims to tackle the obstacles that the private sector faces, such as private energy projects needing to go through 12 administrative phases which can take up to (and usually do) a year.

Trade, industry & competition minister Ebrahim Patel, whose department will be overseeing this new project, said that the one-stop energy shop will address “the many regulatory and other measures that energy developers need to comply with, which slows down approval of energy supply projects”. Patel argues that the project will be aimed at mainly fast-tracking renewable energy projects to provide additional megawatts to the grid.

This new faculty [are] in line with the interventions announced in July 2022 by President Cyril Ramaphosa. These interventions are laid out in the government’s energy crisis response plan.

The first question that needs to be asked is why does this new shop/facility/entity fall under the department of trade, industry & competition, and not under the brand new ministry of electricity? The purpose [of] establishing a new, separate ministry was to ensure the full implementation of the energy action plan as well as to drive the significant reduction of the “severity and frequency of load-shedding as a matter of urgency”.

The EOSS will be rolled out in four stages, starting with phase one, which has been completed and involved the appointment of personnel, website design and the creation of an online registration portal with a mapping function to monitor where in the administrative approval process the project is.

Phases two to four have yet to begin. These phases cover capacity building at municipal and provincial levels, the creation of a “single electronic application”, and finally the completed process and beginning of the full project. James Mackay, CEO of the Energy Council of SA, says the EOSS will “reshape the regulatory framework” of energy generation.

On the surface it appears that the EOSS has the potential to deliver on the policy reforms promised by President Ramaphosa, but another question immediately springs to mind. Will this new platform, which has only completed one of four phases, not generate a greater backlog? There has yet to be any timeline provided for when new system will be online and accessible to the public. Until such a time SA businesses and the private sector will be stuck using the current system with all its faults and challenges.

It appears that our government officials have locked themselves up in an ivory tower full of new policy proposals, big ideas and slow reforms, far removed from the SA citizen on the ground. The EOSS and its subsequent fund aim to streamline the feeding of renewable energy generation into the grid, but instead, with its undetermined time frame and yet more regulation, changes are likely to aggravate the obstacles it aims to fix.

The government’s big light bulb ideas are set to leave South Africans, in the literal sense, in the dark yet again.

Originally published here.

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