Independent power producer Cennergi’s CEO, Thomas Garner, explains that this project has a rich and beautiful history. “At the heart of this project are the Mfengu community and Michael Mcebisi Msizi. Msizi was a struggle stalwart who had a vision to bring energy to his home town.”
“Just Imagine,” a book by author John Young and published by Cennergi, tells the story of Msizi, the Tsitsikamma Mfengu and the TCWF. Msizi, who spent many years in Denmark, had a vision to develop a wind farm on the land that had been forcefully removed from the AmaMfengu in the 1970s.
Msizi, who died in a tragic car accident, did not get the opportunity to see the culmination of the TCWF, which was officially launched in September, together with the Deputy Minister of Energy, Thembisile Majola; as well as the CEO of Exxaro, Mxolisi Mgojo; the CEO of Tata Power, Anil Sardana (from India); and Garner.
The Deputy Minister lauded Cennergi for running a project that has managed to create a balance between profit and people. She emphasised, at the launch, that she was hopeful of Cennergi’s continued contribution to the community, because the people on the ground felt part of the project.
“This is one of those projects that one believes is close to where Msizi imagined it, where it’s not just a project about profit, about who can get wealthier than the other, but a project that is about making a difference,” said Majola.
“This project sets the tone for a new energy narrative in South Africa – not only does it entrench confidence in South Africa’s capabilities as a new player in the renewable energy market, but it also allows for socioeconomic growth within the Tsitsikamma community – it demonstrates how energy can change lives,” believes Garner.
The Tsitsikamma Community Wind Farm
Cennergi, which was started by JSE-listed Exxaro and Tata Power, an international integrated power company, in 2012, aims to own and operate cleaner energy assets throughout sub-Saharan Africa and across the energy value chain.
The company was selected as the preferred bidder for two wind projects, the other being the 134MW Amakhala Emoyeni wind farm project – under the second window of the South African government’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP).
The TCWF is a 95MW project and is the second wind farm of the energy company to achieve commercial operations this year. It is located about 30km west of Humansdorp, south of the N2 National Road in the Tsitsikamma area, falling within the Koukamma local municipality.
The project involves the construction and operation of 31 wind turbines and associated balance of plant infrastructure on the farm Wittekleibosch, owned by the Tsitsikamma Development Trust (TDT). The 31 installed wind turbines have a hub height of 94m, each with a capacity of 3MW.
Exxaro CEO Mxolisi Mgojo says that the commissioning of the TCWF fulfils Exxaro’s vision of extending its position in the energy value chain beyond coal. “In addition, it is a tangible commitment to our environmental stewardship to reduce the impacts of carbon emissions in the medium-to-long term, while addressing the country’s short-term electricity needs.”
The project is being developed by a consortium comprising Cennergi (the lead equity provider with a 75% project shareholding), Watt Energy (with a 16% shareholding), and the TDT (with a 9% share). Vestas Southern Africa, a subsidiary of the Danish based company and one of the leading wind turbine manufacturers globally, was appointed as the engineering, procurement and construction partner, as well as the operation and maintenance contractor for the project.
The wind farm was not developed in isolation, Garner explains. An old farm building in the Wittekleibosch Community, used by the AmaMfengu as an office and a crèche, was upgraded and renovated. This provided a safe working area for the community and a crèche for the children. He explains that this not only provided short-term employment opportunities for the locals, but also provided much-needed training and skills development.
A qualified local contractor (within a 50km radius), through a tender process, was appointed and installed 18km of fencing around cattle farms as the interaction of the cattle with the construction activities had presented a concern. Another contractor from a neighbouring community – Clarkson – has been appointed to construct a cattle kraal for the community’s 400-plus cattle. The kraal is located in closer proximity to the Wittekleibosch community, making it more secure and practical.
Garner says that the Cennergi currently has an installed capacity of 229MW in South Africa. It aims to bring on an additional 1000MW by 2022. “We remain confident that we will achieve this target.”
He adds that the biggest challenge in developing infrastructure in South Africa is “patience”. “Patience is a critical component and we have seen this key element translate into success with our projects. You cannot measure companies on a short-term return because infrastructure is a long-term project and asset.”
Garner says that South Africa continues to demonstrate that its REIPPP programme is “world-class”. The Department of Energy’s REIPPPP has attracted R190bn investment to date and it is hardly five years old. with roughly 80% of that investment from South Africa. Since 2011, there have been a number of renewable projects procured, with 2000MW installed so far from wind and solar.
But he warns that State-owned power utility Eskom must not exert an “abuse of dominance” and that its role in the transmission, distribution and generation of power in South Africa as a single buyer and power systems operator presented challenges and a conflict of interest. “There will be numerous benefits if this vertically integrated system is broken up into individual businesses.” This statement from Garner also followed on from Eskom’s position not to sign on further power purchase agreements in the country.
“It is imperative for the REIPPPP to be successful in South Africa. This will also address the backlog of energy infrastructure development in the country, which is some 10 years. And it requires clear leadership, governance and culture, as well as transparency as a foundation for success not just locally,
but in bridging the energy infrastructure deficit across the continent,” Garner concludes.