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Small enterprise incubation in the Northern Cape

By South African Renewable Energy Council (SAREC) on 20 March 2017
Gloria Klaas heads the five-person crew that is contracted to clear vegetation in and around the 4ha solar plant outside Groblershoop in the Northern Cape.
Owners of the small black-owned businesses that have been contracted to do the cleaning, vegetation management, and other maintenance-type work at the solar power plant outside Groblershoop in the Northern Cape, are graduating from a year-long incubation programme that aims to transform them into viable operations that serve a wider customer base. Eskom’s delays in signing contracts with some power producers at sites elsewhere in the country, jeopardises similar development initiatives.

When vegetation management contractor Gloria Klaas heard that the new 50 megawatt (MW) Bokpoort concentrated solar thermal power plant outside Groblershoop, an hour south of Upington, needed a vegetation clearing crew to keep the grass beneath the rows of mirrors trimmed, she moved herself, her family, and her business to Northern Cape town and set up shop.

Her company name and title are embroidered on her blue overalls: Tlaky Project Engineer. 

She and her crew of five men, all of whom she hired from within the Groblershoop community, were given the gig to control vegetation beneath the eight ‘solar fields’, where the rows of mirrors span about 4ha. They were signed into a one-year contract with ACWA Power, the Dubai-based owner of the plant. 

Since she registered her company in 2007, Gloria had only ever contracted her services to state-funded projects. Signing up with ACWA Power meant getting into the private sector for the first time. 

ACWA Power’s Bokpoort plant is part of the state-initiated Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement (REIPPP) programme which, in 2011, started a process of commissioning private power companies to build and operate 96 renewable energy plants around the country. Part of the agreement with the state is that each company will invest a percentage of the revenue it earns from selling power to the national grid, into social and enterprise development in communities located within 50km of each plant. About 50 of these plants are already operational, and their social and enterprise development endeavours already underway, in some cases benefiting micro-businesses like Gloria’s. 

However, construction is on hold for the next round of 26 plants in the REIPPP programme, owing to delays by Eskom to sign the final contracts with private power companies. While the Department of Energy has approved the plants, construction can’t begin until Eskom has finalised the price at which the state will pay for the power that is fed into the national grid. Delays in completing the plants cascades through to delays in the community development work such as that being done by ACWA Power in and around Groblershoop. 

Part of Bokpoort’s enterprise development has been to take the first round of contractors and, while each business offers their services during the first year of contract, each owner is put through a year-long business incubation programme. 

When the South African Renewable Energy Council (SAREC) met with Gloria in early March 2017, she was preparing to present her reworked business plan to ACWA management, and waiting to hear if her contract would be renewed. Of course she’d love that, she says, flashing a gilt-edged grin, but understands that the purpose of this incubation scheme is to equip her to reach a wider client base here in the Northern Cape. 

Through the syllabus, Gloria and her peers on the course have touched on issues of tax and safety compliance, human resources and operations management, how to market themselves or apply for government tenders, and have been tutored in drafting business plans. 

Gloria is confident that her business plan presentation will go well. In the meantime, her crew is busy clearing the grass under solar fields one and three, this week. They first did the work just by hand, using brush cutters and such, but soon realised that it was necessary to use herbicide to reduce the risk of veld fires and ensure easy access for maintenance crews. 

But all of this is laid out in her revised business plan, which she will be presenting to the ACWA Power management team, in the hope that it will be a deciding factor in whether or not her contract is renewed for another year.