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Transnet awards R60m contract for solar-powered desalination plant at Port of East London

Transnet awards R60m contract for solar-powered desalination plant at Port of East London
(Photo: Michele Spatari / Bloomberg via Getty Images) | Port of East London. (Photo: Transnet)

Transnet National Ports Authority has awarded a R60m contract to build a solar-powered water desalination plant at the Port of East London and operate it for seven years. It is the latest sign of Transnet’s embrace of the private sector and will reduce the SOE’s reliance on third parties to provide fresh water.

A Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) statement on Wednesday said the project was expected to create around 100 jobs and “… improve the reliability of freshwater supply to users of South Africa’s only river port, the Port of East London.”

“The introduction of this alternative water solution is a step towards the advancement of the port system and seeks to minimise TNPA’s reliance on external parties for the provision of fresh water,” said acting TNPA chief executive, Phyllis Difeto.

South Africa’s water supply infrastructure is in a shambles as a trio of audit reports made clear in December and which has since become painfully apparent in major metros such as Johannesburg.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Official reports reveal massive scale of the waste, pollution and poorly treated water crisis

This is mostly a result of shoddy governance which has also seen rivers and streams fouled by the breakdown of sewage plants. Adding to this, climate change is emerging as a threat to water security.   

Desalination, which effectively removes the salt from saltwater to make it drinkable, is one obvious solution as South Africa has more than 2,800km of coastline. 

But it is costly and power-intensive. 

South Africa has only a handful of such plants. The first in the Eastern Cape, in Port Alfred, closed last year over a payment dispute. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Eastern Cape’s first desalination plant forced to close

Hopefully, TNPA’s East London project will have a happier outcome. Since it will be solar-powered, it will have a green sheen and not have to rely on unreliable Eskom.

The project contract has been awarded to a joint venture; Norland Civil Engineers and Contractors and Impact Water Solutions, trading as Sun Water East London.

The initiative is also Transnet’s latest embrace of the private sector as it attempts to reverse a meltdown in its performance from rail to port, which has mired the South African economy in a logistics crisis.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Transnet unveils 100 private sector leasing opportunities at its ports

It is yet another indication that new Transnet CEO Michelle Phillips wants to do things differently and get things done. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Geoff Coles says:

    Very expensive for somewhere jobs, and, on a river?

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Good and bad news depending on if this is a BEE tender winner! In my opinion, Until racist BEE policies are dropped we will never have fair and competent solutions to our economic woes and the taxpayer ( you know…those 20% paying 80% of our tax revenue) will continue to throw good money after bad!

  • Seven Thosand says:

    This is nonsense, why is Transnet outside of its mandate. EL infrastructure has collapsed because of ANC we have two large dams, fix sewerage and water. They can only hope this doesn’t turn out to be just another fat white elephant like the one in Port Alfred . This is just money extraction for the party , there is absolutely no doubt this will turn into another dismal failed plan by ANC and costs will double at least. Any body asked the Anc division of the construction mafia if this can go ahead. Stay in your lane Transnet and use the money to fix the ports you stuffed up.

  • Allrite Jack says:

    Has a competent engineer checked the adequacy of the R30 million? The other R30 million going to the ANC mafia needs no accounting. It will just become a part of the amorphous R billion or so already in their pocket.

  • Richard Blake says:

    More money for the ANC cadres to loot.

  • Ritchie Morris says:

    Sounds like pie in the sky for such a large cost. It reportedly will supply 500 m3 (500,000 Litres/day). Why desalinate seawater with its high salinity and associated cost? Has groundwater been considered – even if its a slightly saline groundwater resource – would be far cheaper and easier to purify to acceptable standards. There used to be a fairly strong borehole near Premier Bakery in Oxford St. There is a low flow artesian borehole at MBSA site. Target features for groundwater would be next to dolerite intrusions and reference should be made to the 1945 paper by Prof Edgar Mountain ‘The geology of East London C.P.’ in Transactions of the Geological Society of SA. Unfortunately little lateral thinking goes into the initial planning and decision making process when considering (conjunctive) water supply – and this seems to be the case in this regard. There are plenty examples of failed desalination plants along the South African coast.

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