Free State Looks Towards Greener Future

By Jessie Taylor

The Free State has been experiencing increased temperatures in parts, according to Economic Small Business Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs MEC Thabo Meeko – making the province’s focus on green energy essential. To mitigate these impacts, the Department of Economic Small Business Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (DESTEA) working on plans to encourage investment into green projects, such as renewable energy and waste management.

Fighting Climate Change

Predictions estimate that the Free State will experience an annual average temperature increase of between 2.5% to 3% in most districts between 2021 and 2050. “Although there is less clarity on the direction the rainfall pattern will take in our province, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) predicts that storm and flood events will increase four-fold up to 2050,” said MEC Meeko. The impact of these on biodiversity, environment and socioeconomic levels will be unprecedented, he said.

To mitigate climate change’s impact, the DESTEA is establishing a Climate Change forum, which will report to the provincial Working Group on Climate Change. There are several other ways the DESTEA is working to reduce the impact of climate change, such as a drive to plant trees and setting up infrastructure to harvest water in drought prone areas. In addition, DESTEA is looking to funnel investment in the province toward green projects, and a database of climate change is being compiled to aid in attracting external funding. One of the ways the provincial government is tackling waste management, is through efforts to reduce waste directed to provincial landfills. To this end, DESTEA is providing environmental support and training in the energy and waste management sectors.

An audit of 25 landfill sites has been carried out, to ensure compliance and issue waste license applications. “Recent rapid urbanisation and economic growth have contributed to increased waste generation. A lack of appropriate measures to manage various forms of waste, especially at local government level, presents a serious risk to the environment, exacerbated by the increased complexity of waste streams due to industrialisation, affecting the complexity of waste management,” MEC Meeko said. “The department has finalised the development of the first generation of Integrated Waste Management Plan whose purpose will be to improve integrated waste management practices and sets out mechanisms to strengthen cooperative governance relating to waste matters in the province.

DESTEA is focusing on economic opportunities within the waste management ecosystem, and has allocated R4-million to support small and medium enterprises participating in the Waste Economy.

Encouraging Green Investment

MEC Meeko said that natural gas found around Virginia is “a game changer for the economy of the province”, and his department will commission a feasibility study to look into the possibility of establishing a Special Economic Zone in the area in order to take advantage of the opportunities presented by this gas find. Around R1-billion has already been invested in the Renergen Gas project in Virginia, and a further R20-bn will be invested, over three years, starting later this year.

“Being a new industry, much of the equipment is sourced overseas, but we anticipate that the local content sourcing should be in excess of R5-billion across various disciplines in the near future. We have further discussions with other potential investors who have shown interest in areas such as tourism, hydroponics, bio-gas, alternative building technologies, and agri-tech,” he said. MEC Meeko added that the Free State Investment Conference is planned for later this year as part of the ongoing efforts to attract investments in sectors such as mining, renewable energy, gas extraction, agriculture, manufacturing, and tourism.

“More will be done to reduce the cost of doing business in the province in order to attract and retain private sector investment. DESTEA research shows that the cost of doing business is relatively higher in the Free State than in other provinces. We will engage local government to ensure that this province is attractive to investors by lowering cost of doing business,” said MEC Meeko. “

MEC Meeko said some negotiations between provincial government and potential investors in renewable energy projects are at an advanced stage, with efforts being made to encourage them to partner with government to address electricity challenges. “Our view is that these investments will go a long way in unlocking economic and business opportunities for the local SMMES. It will also create much-needed jobs, alleviate poverty, and address various social ills in Kopanong Local Municipality”.