Renewable energy project developers should pay more attention to stakeholder management, advises law firm

Renewable energy project developers must prioritize stakeholder management to avoid pitfalls later, says law firm ENSafrica natural resources and environment Sitefane Mihlali.

She notes that managing key stakeholders is often not a priority, compared to the urgency and need to operationalize renewable energy projects – “often [a] short-sighted approach.

Failure to prioritize stakeholder management in the development of renewable energy projects, Sitefane says, can cause those projects to stall and introduce challenges that could impact success and longevity. projects.

In renewable energy projects, stakeholders include landowners, local communities, rightful occupants, developers, neighboring farms, municipalities, farmers, and any person or group of people who may affect or be affected through the development and operationalization of the project.

She notes that stakeholders are different, which makes it “crucial” to ensure that different types of stakeholders are not only identified, but are categorized and prioritized accordingly.

For example, stakeholders who have tenure rights are essential and should be clearly identified. “It is important to enter into certain agreements, such as land sale agreements, easements or leases and to establish what their terms of engagement are,” explains Sitefane.

Depending on the location of the land and its current use, stakeholders who have rights to the land may include individual owners, communities, farmers, associations, and in some cases municipalities and mining companies.

“Failure to properly involve these stakeholders will stall the project because surface or land rights, for the purpose of building the plant or other necessary infrastructure, would not have been secured,” she warns.

In cases where the land is owned by a community (as defined in the Provisional Protection of Informal Land Rights Act 1996), the community will have to consent to the alienation of any of their rights in the land.

An example is a case between Maledu and others against Itereleng Bakgatla Mineral Resources and another, in which it was insufficient to simply engage and enter into surface-related agreements with the relevant tribal authority without consulting and engaging the occupiers or owners rights of the lands concerned.

“This task may seem simple, but in practice it can involve extensive consultation with many people, and reaching consensus can be arduous,” Sitefane says.

Similarly, land identified by renewable energy proponents may already be set aside for other purposes, such as mining activities, rehabilitation efforts in accordance with existing environmental permits, township settlements and other commercial purposes.

Nonetheless, she says, engaging quickly and effectively with these stakeholders increases the chances of ensuring that mutually beneficial commercial terms are more likely to be accepted by all parties.

From an environmental law perspective, Sitefane asserts that it is imperative to determine whether interested and affected parties in the area are likely to oppose or appeal the required environmental permits, which could result in the suspension of these permissions pending the outcome of the appeal.

“This determination requires a proactive approach, as opposed to a reactive approach where the project is delayed due to ineffective stakeholder engagement,” she notes.

All things considered, Sitefane emphasizes that the approach to stakeholder management should not be a ‘tick box’ exercise with the sole aim of obtaining the necessary licenses and permits, and securing land rights.

On the contrary, she says, stakeholders should be seen as essential to the success of the renewable energy project.

“Developers should proactively plan for stakeholder management and engagement from the outset, with a long-term view of maintaining relationships and long-term operational success that has full buy-in from relevant stakeholders. .”

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