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Changing EIA Requirements for solar photovoltaic plants

The Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Ms Barbara Creecy, published, for public comment, her intention to exempt the construction or extension of solar photovoltaic plants from having to obtain an environmental authorisation in terms of the National Environmental Management Act 107 of 1998 but instead to comply with the prescribed environmental management programme. It will be available for public review and discussion for 30 days following its release on September 8, 2022.

The proposed declaration is intended to apply to the development or expansion of facilities or infrastructure for the generation of electricity from a solar photovoltaic installation, where such development or expansion triggers –

  • Activity 1 or Activity 36 of Listing Notice 1; or

  • Activity 1 of Listing Notice 2;

and any associated activity identified in Listing Notice 1, 2 or 3 necessary for the realisation of such facilities.

To fall within the ambit of the proposed declaration, the relevant facility must occur in:

  • Areas of “low” or “medium” environmental sensitivity for the prescribed environmental themes as identified by the screening tool; and

  • Areas confirmed to be of “low” or “medium” environmental sensitivity through a site sensitivity verification inspection as prescribed.

The proponent of the facility that falls within the prescribed sensitivity areas must register with the relevant authority at least 15 days before the start of any expansion or new development. The relevant authority must register and issue a registration number to the applicant within 10 days of receiving a correctly completed registration form and supporting papers. Such registration will lapse after 3 years such that the expansion or development of the relevant facility needs to commence within 3 years of registration.

In terms of the transitional arrangements, applications for solar photovoltaic installations that were submitted by the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations, the Renewable Energy Development Zone Notice or the Strategic Transmission Corridor Notice must be finalised in terms of such processes unless such application is withdrawn on the day the proposed declaration comes into effect.

The proposed declaration is a positive step in assisting in opening the door for the move to renewable energy and to assist with stabilising the grid in the current energy crisis by ensuring the licencing process, from an environmental legal perspective, is simplified while still ensuring that the environment will be appropriately protected.

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