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Doctor on call: Renewable energy revenues support healthcare in under-serviced rural areas

By South African Renewable Energy Council (SAREC) on 14 March 2017
A LoveLife volunteer gives a class on gender-based violence at a school in Groblershoop. This health intervention work is funded by the nearby solar power plant that started operating in 2015.

Until now, if people in and around Groblershoop in the Northern Cape needed to see a state doctor, they’d have to wait a month for the travelling government clinician to stop in town for a single day. And then they’d have to queue at the local clinic, alongside every other person who had also been waiting for weeks to get treatment, and hope there would be enough time in the day for the doctor to see everyone.

Like so many rural towns in the region, state healthcare services are spread this thin. The town doesn’t even have a pharmacy. 

This is why ACWA Power, the Dubai-based company that owns the new 50 megawatt (MW) Bokpoort concentrated solar thermal power plant (CSP) about 10km outside of town, has teamed up with LoveLife to bring a full-time doctor to town. 

LoveLife traditionally focuses on bringing HIV/AIDS-related education to youth from the ages of 12 to about 19. But when the organisation did a needs assessment of the ǃKheis Local Municipality - which services six towns, including Groblershoop - it found that the lack of a full-time state doctor was a gap that needed filling urgently. 

Meanwhile, ACWA Power’s CSP plant was just coming into operation outside Groblershoop. The Bokpoort plant is part of the state’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement (REIPPP) programme, one of 96 renewable power plants that the state has commissioned to be built across the country. 

As part of its contractual agreement with the Department of Energy (DoE), a percentage of the revenue earned by selling the Bokpoort plant’s electricity to the grid, must be spent on local social or enterprise development in communities living within a 50km radius of the plant. With this in mind, ACWA Power decided to team up with LoveLife in order to fund the organisation’s expanded operation in this municipality. 

The five-year funding commitment, which will be open for renewal, supports the teams of LoveLife education volunteers, pays for this full-time doctor who will be based at the Groblershoop clinic, and will fund the bus services that will bring people in from the surrounding communities in order to see the doctor.

This funding also gives LoveLife enough security to invest in building a small youth centre on a piece of municipal land where they have been granted a long-term lease. 

ACWA Power funds many other development projects in the area, and will be able to increase the investment if it is allowed to proceed with expanding the plant. The DoE has approved an expansion of the plant, and the power producer is waiting for Eskom to finalise the contractual paperwork that includes agreement on the price that the state will pay for electricity which will be generated once the second phase of the plant is up and running.  

Eskom is delaying the paperwork on 26 such plants around the country, in turn delaying their construction, and the timeline in which plant operations will begin. As a consequence, this delays the flow of funding into community development work in all the regions. 

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