Solar plant builds hope in the Northern Cape

IOL pic mar15 bokpoort acwa power sign ANA "ACWA Power really supports us," said guesthouse operator Elzahn Fourie, referring to both the guesthouse and the broader community. Picture: Carla Bernardo

Upington - Business at Hooggelegen in Groblershoop has always been good.

Situated along the main road in Groblershoop, a town which in 2011 had a population of just under 5 000, Hooggelegen is the town’s main - and previously only - guesthouse.

But now, with the fully operational ACWA Power Solafrica Bokpoort Concentrated Solar Power Project (CSP), Hooggelegen is no longer the only accommodation option in town.

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“But competition is always good,” said Hooggelegen manager and multi-tasker Elzahn Fourie.

“Every place must keep up with Hooggelegen’s standards and we have to maintain ours”.

Before development of the plant began in 2013, Hooggelegen - previously known as Ou Kalahari Hotel - truly had the lion’s share of the hospitality business.

Now, other options were popping up but, said Fourie, instead of taking away from Hooggelegen’s visitors, business was improving. More guesthouses were opening their doors to Groblershoop visitors and at local stores such as Foodzone, “business was booming”.

“ACWA Power really supports us,” said Fourie, referring to both the guesthouse and the broader community.

Not only does ACWA Power and the R5 billion CSP – which was officially inaugurated on Monday – it developed bring in business, it also improves the lives of Hooggelegen’s staff.

“A lot of my female workers’ husbands work on the plant,” said Fourie.

The Hooggelegen staff’s spouses would have been part of the 1 300 staff employed during the construction peak at Bokpoort, which is developed to improve base load efficiency by supplying Eskom with power for demanding 17h00 to 21h00 period.

Of this 1 300, 400 were locals from Groblershoop, !Kheis region. About 70 of these were now permanently employed.

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Someone who makes up that permanent core is field operator and local entrepreneur Golden Van Ross.

“Before ACWA Power, it was dark... I was thinking, it’s difficult for me to find work and to have a second income,” he said.

Now, Van Ross, dressed in his personal protective equipment – because Bokpoort holds their 18-month no injury period in high regard – takes CSP visitors around town and to and from the plant to the airport.

These transportation services form part of an opportunity Van Ross saw in the early days of the CSP’s life. Having started working at the plant in 2013 when construction began, Van Ross saw the need for a transportation service.

In 2014, Van Ross traded in his Volkswagen Polo for a combi, applied for his taxi permit and, within roughly a year, had the necessary documents in order.

Since then Van Ross has purchased another vehicle for his registered business “G Man Transport”, one he paid for in cash without needing to use his main salary or a loan. Along the way, Van Ross has also acquired his Advanced Driving Licence, enabling him to navigate the Northern Cape’s long and winding roads more efficiently.

His services are split between shuttling local pupils to school, ACWA Power work, and driving long distance from Pretoria to Upington.

From the success of G Man Transport, Van Ross has also opened a funeral home in Grootdrink, his suburb. Now, instead of being forced to drive over 140km to the nearest funeral home, residents can deal with a loved one’s death closer to home, and with a familiar, local businessman.

And it is not just Van Ross’s or Hooggelegen’s lives that are changing. ACWA Power has also invested R5 million into the !Kheis region.

“ACWA Power has made a lot of changes in our community,” said Van Ross.

Part of ACWA Power’s social development includes sending locals to technical colleges where they receive training for electrical work, as well as health and safety work, and welding.

In addition to this, schools have also received laptops, while over 300 houses have been gifted solar panels.

In the pipeline for the region is a bakery and, in Van Ross’s local community, a park, swimming pool, and a community hall.

“ACWA Power is coming into the !kheis area and they are making lots of changes,” said a smiling Van Ross.

“If there was no ACWA Power, there would be no opportunities for me”.

ANA

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