Northern Cape state of the province address tackles the just energy transition head-on

The Northern Cape province is ready to face energy security crisis head-on, by implementing the just transition policy to address poverty, unemployment, crime, corruption, infrastructure development, and enhance skills development, localization and investment. 

This is the vision of Dr. Zamani Saul, premier of the Northern Cape in his recent State of the Province Address (SOPA). To achieve this goal, the Provincial Government has set aside R9.6 billion investments for the next three financial years.

Delivering the SOPA in the heart of the Karoo, in a small and tidy town of Calvinia, the Premier indicated that this year’s address is based on the theme; “Building a Provincial Roadmap for Decisive Action through resilience, hard work and progress”. 

The said theme is setting the tone for the sixth administration, which is left with barely 16 months in office, to ‘pull-up its socks by taking rigid, decisive actions, through hard work and improvement.”

Calvinia, is a tiny and clean town, surrounded by the beautiful mountain landscape; the Square Kilometer Array and the Provincial Government supported Nieuwoudtville Rooibos tea factory, and several small holder Rooibos and Karoo lamb farms. In this part of the country temperatures soars to 40 Degrees Celsius on a good day. 

Premier Saul recently announced the massive green hydrogen national investment portfolios of which the Northern Cape will be a direct beneficiary. “A R600 billion investment pipeline has been identified and designated under our country’s Green Hydrogen National Programme,” Saul said.

This was in reference to additional projects which were gazetted by the then minister of public works and infrastructure, Patricia De Lille in December 2023, as part of the Green Hydrogen National Programme (GHNP). 

“Of the nine projects, there are four projects located in the Northern Cape. It is the Prieska Power Reserve, Ubuntu Green Energy Hydrogen Project, Upilanga Solar and Green Hydrogen Park and Boegoebaai Green Hydrogen Development Programme. These projects are aligned to the Provincial Growth and Development Plan 2040 and anchor the much-needed development towards achieving a growing Province.” 

The MEC for finance in the Northern Cape, Abraham Vosloo, indicated during the provincial budget speech last week, that infrastructure investment in the province is important to the economic recovery. “There is an even greater need to develop an integrated infrastructure growth path, as it will provide us with a clear direction in terms of the developmental nodes in the province and the impact thereof on our economy.”

With the recent announcements by president Cyril Ramaphosa during the SONA and minister of Finance, Enoch Godongoane during the budget speech that there would be frontloading and other innovative funding solutions for infrastructure development in the Northern Cape and Eastern Cape, Vosloo announced that the Northern Cape Front Loading Team has been established. The team consists of heads of department and technical staff, chaired by the provincial treasury head of department to coordinate the different phases of frontloading.

“We are busy with the first phase of frontloading, which involves the Northern Cape department of co-operative governance, human settlements and traditional affairs. It has been approved by the two investment committees of the Development Bank of South Africa, but still to be presented to the final committee. It will then be presented to the National Treasury’s coordinating committee chaired by the minister of finance and consisting of all nine MECs of Finance,” Vosloo said.

According to him the second phase will involve key departments such as the departments of roads and public works, health and education will follow as soon as the first phase is completed. 

Since 2019 an amount of R8.7 billion has been spent on infrastructure in the province, with a revised estimate of R3 billion in the 2022/23 financial year. According to Vosloo, the aggregated projected infrastructure spending for the next three years would amount to R9.6 billion, with R3.3 billion to be spent in the 2023/24 financial year, R3.1 billion in the 2024/25 financial year and R 3.2 billion in the 2025/26 financial year.

Since the launch of the Green Hydrogen Strategy at the COP26 in Scotland in 2021, Saul indicated that the province, with its rich vision of a ‘Modern, Growing and Successful Northern Cape’, has made a significant progress on the master plan for a green hydrogen special economic zone. “The zone aims to support 40 Gigawatts of electrolyser capacity by 2050,” he said. The economic zone will see the Namakwa District Development Model, as championed by MEC Mase Manopole of agriculture, environmental affairs, rural development and land reform and her counterpart, deputy minister of trade, industry and competition, Nomalungelo Gina, awakening the economy of the region through catalytic projects.

Saul announced that the Namakwa Special Economic Zone (SEZ) is at an advanced stage. “Approval has been granted by the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC) and we are just awaiting cabinet approval. The DTIC and the province signed a 50/50 agreement, wherein we each committed R1 billion for cost sharing towards the top structure and the province will further contribute R600 million for bulk infrastructure development”’ he said.

“In 2022, we signed a landmark Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Western Cape provincial government to develop a green hydrogen corridor stretching along the west coast of the South African Development Community (SADC). Plans are afoot to also sign an MOU with the Eastern Cape government,” Saul said.

These initiatives will support the collaborative effort between two provinces, with a possible to expansion to Namibia and the Eastern Cape.

Green Hydrogen is emerging as a global solution towards a “just energy transition”, which will provide local benefits to communities “where it will contribute to attracting foreign direct investment, economic growth and job creation.

“This is part of an energy security social compact, which will include a diverse range of social partners. Through this, we will achieve a consensus on how to achieve energy security for our Province and country,” according to Saul.

As an anchor of the Namakwa SEZ, the Vedanta Zinc International mine has done remarkable work in the area, which has led to investors showing interest to open companies in the zone. The spatial development planning, includes new town development in Aggeneys with the planning of more than 200 housing units for a new township proceeding well.

A flagship project in the Namakwa SEZ district is the Boegoebaai deep sea port, which will run concurrently with the Boegoebaai green hydrogen energy infrastructure development project, with a special focus on the generation of green hydrogen energy. 

The acting CEO of the Northern Cape Economic Development Agency (NCEDA), Hendrik Louw, said the conclusion of the Namakwa SEZ masterplan is well underway.

“We have a great line up of investors in partnership who are willing to work with the provincial government on these projects. The Boegoebaai harbor infrastructure and the 30 000 hectares of SEZ spatial development and environmental process is underway. The master plan will focus on regional integration. It will complement the SADC business model and we will implement the business and mobility of green hydrogen for global and domestic market,” said Louw. 

Louw said the development of the Boegoebaai harbor and Green Hydrogen Energy hub will benefit the local economy.  Lessons were learned in mining and mineral beneficiation which led to communities not being direct beneficiaries.

“With these multibillion projects, the people of Namakwa will be proud to say, ‘Namakwa our land, our ownership, our benefit and We shall rise.’ This is precisely because we have learned our lessons with the mining and beneficiation of industries. The recourse will stay with us for long.”

The plan in the district is to recover old mining industries and create industries that will be co-owned by communities to create employment opportunities and skills development for the benefit of their children. “We are moving at a high speed with the Corporate social investment plans. So far bursaries have been issued to deserving students in the related fields of study. We are working on the basic infrastructure solution, and want to enhance media and communication in the area, so that when the storm hit, we must be able to compete with our global competitors on an equal footing.”

Louw indicated that, in order for communities to benefit from lifestyle upliftment, education, health and access to basic services, enterprise development will be a priority in the district.

 In 2023, about 35 000 jobs will be created when the project kicks off.  “In 2024 the harbor construction will be starting, the SEZ creation will commence and the renewable energy hub will be established. Sanral will do road upgrades, electricity lines must be upgraded and water desalination done. Our social corporate investment through skill development, training initiative will start this year.”

The Just Energy Transition Investment Plan (JET IP) was announced by president Ramaphosa at COP27. It outlined the investment requirements towards South Africa’s decarbonizing commitments and promote sustainable development in vulnerable communities. Saul said one of the new policy developments in the Northern Cape is the Northern Cape Green Hydrogen Strategy, which is centered on driving economic growth and mitigating climate change towards a just transition.

Zandisile Luphahla is the spokesperson of the Northern Cape Department of Agriculture, Environmental Affairs, Rural Development and Land Reform. An award winning communicator, he is a member of the Earth Journalist Network. He writes in his own capacity.

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