The South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA) hosted the first of series of workshops focused on Wind Farm Community Trusts. 
The workshop brought together Community Trustees, Economic Development Managers, and representatives from both the Government’s Independent Power Producer’s (IPP) office and wind farms in the region. Initiated to better understand the needs of the Community Trustees as they work for the benefit of beneficiary communities, participants used the opportunity to lay a foundation for ongoing support and increase effectiveness of Trusts.
The national renewables programme seeks to ensure that IPPs work in partnership with Trusts to boost local economic development and assist local government in the advancement of previously disadvantaged communities within a 50km radius of the respective renewable energy projects. This structure of localised ownership has been built into the IPP business framework and goes beyond typical CSI efforts to bridge a number of socio-economic interests. Such public/private partnerships have an important role to play in strengthening local communities.
One of the objectives of the workshop was to develop a deeper understanding of the experiences of Community Trustees and Community Trust Conveners. The latter are administrators employed by Trusts. In addition, the workshop aimed to deepen mutual understanding of the different models of implementation of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Procurement Programme and to consider some of the successes and weaknesses of implementation in the Eastern Cape Wind Industry.  “We explored a range of approaches that are applied when establishing the Trusts for the benefit of local communities. Many of the initiatives are focused on Education, Health and the empowerment of women. Whilst Government expects a minimum ownership level, we have found most Wind project Trusts to exceed these stipulated thresholds, despite many practical hurdles” explained Brenda Martin, CEO of SAWEA.
The workshop identified the need for fast-tracking PBO registration process, for developing Trustees’ skills in areas of governance, fiduciary oversight and the capacity to critically assess developmental initiatives.  The Industry will be appealing to government to assist Community Trusts in the registration process in particular, as two-year delays are a common feature in this area. Community Trusts are unable to actively assist in local development while they await registration. “In addition to the practical ability to function, we would like to see Community Trusts sufficiently empowered to take long-term decisions and employ critical governance oversight functions,” added Martin.
“In the days leading up to the workshop we also took the opportunity to visit a number of Eastern Cape Wind farm community projects and noted that in addition to education, health and enterprise programmes, there is a great focus on empowering women. A growing number of women are establishing their own micro-enterprises and working with IPP ED managers to grow their networks within the province and nationally,” commented Martin.
The Eastern Cape hosts twelve Wind farms and was therefore selected to host the first SAWEA Provincial Community Trust Workshop. The farms collectively contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and water demand linked to meeting the country’s energy requirements.
The Kouga Executive Mayor Elza van Lingen, recently said, “Public-private partnerships can be powerful catalysts for change. We value the contribution our local wind farms are making to the well-being, education and economic growth of our communities and look forward to strengthening our partnership with them.”
SAWEA looks forward to follow up workshops in the Eastern Cape as well as the Northern and Western Cape where smaller numbers of Wind farms are also contributing to local economic development in South Africa’s rural towns.