The Sol Plaatje Hydro Power Plant was commissioned in 2009, having been developed as a greenfield project by REH Project Development (then NuPlanet). It was constructed by the South African construction firm Eigenbau (Pty) Ltd, with Aurecon South Africa (Pty) Ltd appointed as the consulting engineering firm in an Engineering, Procurement and Construction Management (EPCM) arrangement.
The plant has an installed capacity of 3 MW and operates as a run-of-river power station. Annual output is 17GWh. The site has a generating head of approximately 11 meters and generates its maximum output at a maximum flow of 30 cubic meters per second. The power station is located on the right bank of the Sol Plaatje dam, situated outside the town of Bethlehem, Free State Province, South Africa. A new intake was constructed within the non-overspill flank and the power station was located immediately downstream of the intake. Water is returned to the Liebenbergsvlei river downstream of the Sol Plaatje Dam.
The power plant utilizes a single 2.1m diameter, double-regulated horizontal axis Kaplan turbine. The power station operates semi-autonomously with remote monitoring and is connected to the Bethlehem municipal power grid by way of an 11 kV line.
The Sol Plaatje and Merino power plants together are owned by Bethlehem Hydro Proprietary Limited, and comprise the first greenfield hydro development in South Africa since the early 1980s, developed by REH Project Development (then NuPlanet).
Bethlehem Hydro generates income by selling electrical power and capacity under power purchase agreements (PPA) and by selling its reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as Certified Emission Reductions (CERs). The lifespan of both power plants is in excess of 20 years.
The financing of the project was arranged through project finance, with the debt being provided by the Development Bank of Southern Africa and equity investment by the Mertech Group and Hydro Women of South Africa (HydroWSA), a broad based black economic empowerment investment group.
Bethlehem Hydro has won several awards, due to its innovative approach and groundbreaking achievement:
- Green Project of the Year, 2006. Development Bank of Southern Africa
- South Africa Energy Project of the Year, 2008. South African National Energy Agency
- Top 10 best small hydro projects in the world, 2009. International Water Power and Dam Construction
- Best renewable energy project in Africa, 2010. Africa Energy Awards