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26 March 2018

Local Government Energy Summit affirms positive change, innovation and bold action needed to create a sustainable energy future

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SALGA, the South African Local Government Association, hosted the first Local Government Energy Summit, from 7 to 9 March 2018, in Gauteng, South Africa. Over 700 delegates from municipalities, including mayors, municipal managers, and technical officials, as well as a range of organisations, attended the three day summit, with the theme “Defining the Energy Future of Local Government”.

The purpose of this summit was to define the way forward for SALGA to support local governments in their role as energy providers, while responding to and preparing for the current energy transition, as defined by the impact of global and national trends in the energy sector. These trends include:

  • Energy generation being localised and decentralised, with the rise of the ‘prosumer’.
  • Increasing electrification as more households are provided with electricity access and industries shift to using electricity to power their operations.
  • Improved and increased access to and use of technology, especially information and telecommunications (IT), across the electricity sector to allow for a more responsive system with an increasing number of actors.

At the conclusion of this summit, SALGA presented a declaration that will be the foundation of their work going forward, with CoGTA, ESKOM, and local government.

It is clear that local governments and energy providers must adapt current revenue management and operations models to be sustainable over the long term, both within the energy services sector and more broadly across municipal functions for service delivery.

As ICLEI Africa, we work with local governments across South Africa in the energy sector, through our projects that focus on sustainable infrastructure, low emissions development, renewable energy, and governance. In the context of the broader discussion of the need for a new way of operating in the energy sector, and in relation to our work, these are five key takeaways for local government:

  • The energy transition is already underway and it will leave government in the cold if not adapted to quickly. The energy transition is not necessarily a disruptive force, but rather a constructive force that can enable efficiencies and open new market opportunities. This transition must result in job growth and improved equality and equity.
  • Local governments are well-positioned to meet the needs of this transition and be more sustainable and resilient through this process. Specifically, South African municipalities have a strong mandate in the energy provision sector, for transport, development and land use applications, waste management, and significant assets such as the municipal grid and landfills, to wield for a new energy business model. Actions such as improved revenue management, reduced technical and non-technical losses, as well as building relationships with customers can happen immediately.
  • We need an enabling environment for the transition that offers clarity about roles, responsibilities, relationships between stakeholders, and a policy framework that supports innovation. Local governments have a specific and valuable role in the energy sector and must not take on the role of other stakeholders, such as ESKOM or the private sector.
  • The energy sector needs to be more customer-centric to retain its customers in the face of alternative energy sources. To do so, municipalities need to think beyond business as usual and partner with consumers who will benefit from the success of local government as an energy service provider.
  • Operational efficiency and revenue management is key to local government financial sustainability and we can no longer rely on the surplus of energy services alone to fund municipal service delivery.

Energy access has a high social and environmental value – for education, health, gender equality, safety, and due to the opportunity for reduced greenhouse gas emissions. It is therefore essential to make access to clean and affordable energy a priority in order to achieve a just, equal and sustainable society. As we localise our global commitments, such as the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals, the role of local government is strengthened when Mayors and local government officials lead the energy transition. Summits such as this provide a vital opportunity to engage with other municipalities and levels of government, including National Government and other stakeholders in the energy sector, in working towards improved access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

Read more about the first Local Government Energy Summit here

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