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Stortemelk hydropower project receives recognition for sustainability

Using an industry-leading assessment tool, a small-scale hydro project in South Africa, Stortemelk, has been recognised as an impressive example of sustainable small hydro development.

The 4.3MW run-of-river plant developed by Stortemelk Hydro, a subsidiary of Renewable Energy Holdings (REH), achieved global good practice across 10 environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance criteria in the independent assessment.

Commissioned in 2016, the Stortemelk project has received awards for its architecture and environmental performance. The project’s site selection and design have enabled it to avoid significant environmental and social impacts and reduce costs during construction and operation.

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Anton-Louis Olivier, CEO of REH Group, stated: “We strongly believe in the role sustainable hydropower projects can play in achieving a decarbonised power sector. This is especially the case in Africa with its vast untapped hydro potential.

“Applying the Hydropower Sustainability ESG Gap Analysis Tool at Stortemelk has demonstrated the high sustainability performance of this hydro plant against the leading global standard. The results are also guiding our project development activities across the region.”

Evaluating the Stortemelk project

The evaluation was supported through the Hydropower Sustainability ESG Assessment Fund managed by the International Hydropower Association (IHA) and financed by Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).

The Stortemelk project makes a significant contribution to reducing emissions in South Africa’s power sector as it is expected to mitigate 500,000 tons of CO2e of greenhouse gas emissions over a 20 year period. This is equivalent to the annual electricity use of around 4,200 homes over the same period.

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The independent assessment found substantial benefits for the local community through job creation and an ongoing socio-economic development programme. The plant generates enough electricity for around 3,000 households annually.

The assessment was the first to be done remotely following recently released new guidance.

The project’s assessor, Joerg Hartmann, said: “The assessment of the Stortemelk project really showed the power of smart siting and design choices. Because the project was built on an existing dam with a very small footprint, it has low impacts and enjoys broad stakeholder support.

“The assessment was conducted in November 2020 and involved a review of 75 documents, 20 interviews and a remote site assessment using video calls, surveillance cameras and drone footage.

“As the first project applying new remote assessment guidance, it also showed that for these kinds of projects, modern technology can be used for a thorough and cost-effective assessment,” Hartmann added.

Joao Costa, IHA’s Head of Sustainability, said: “The Stortemelk project is an excellent example of how such assessments are now able to be done remotely. It shows that it is possible to continue the pursuit of sustainable hydropower development even during a pandemic.”

“IHA commends the resilience and professionalism of all who worked together to deliver this – the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Council, SECO, REH Group, the accredited assessor and local stakeholders. In particular, the funding from SECO provides a strong financial incentive for project owners and developers to raise their social and environmental performance and develop their capacity.”

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Nicolette Pombo-van Zyl
As the Editor of ESI Africa, my passion is on sustainability and placing African countries on the international stage. I take a keen interest in the trends shaping the power & water utility market along with the projects and local innovations making headline news. Watch my short weekly video on our YouTube channel ESIAfricaTV and speak with me on what has your attention.