/ 7 October 2022

Environmental ruling on Karpowership to be made in early 2023

Powergroup SA has approached the Johannesburg high court to seek an urgent interdict against Turkish group Karadeniz Energy, accusing it of attempting to remove it from a natural gas deal worth over R200 billion. (Karpowership)

A decision on whether Karpowership SA will secure environmental approval to moor a fleet of floating gas powerships in three ports in South Africa will be made early next year, the department of forestry, fisheries and the environment said.

In June last year, it refused Karpowership’s application for environmental authorisation to operate in the ports of Coega, Saldanha Bay and Richards Bay after environmental organisations filed complaints about its harmful effects on small-scale fishing and marine ecosystems and would worsen climate change

In August this year, the department’s minister, Barbara Creecy, declined Karpowerships’ applications to appeal, finding that various gaps in information and procedural defects are “material and fatal”.

But she threw the company a lifeline by ruling that it can resubmit parts of its environmental impact assessment (EIA). “I deem that an appropriate order … is to remit the matter back to the competent authority so that the various gaps in information and procedural defects in relation to the public participation process that led to the rejection of the environmental authorisation application may be addressed,” she said. 

In March last year, the department of mineral resources and energy selected Karpowership as a preferred bidder to provide 1 200 megawatts of gas-fired power under the emergency power procurement programme over the next 20 years in a deal worth more than R218-billion at the time. 

Strategic Integrated Project

Albi Modise, the spokesperson for the environment department, told Mail & Guardian that in or during 2021, Karpowership and other aggrieved parties submitted appeals to Creecy against the decisions of the department to refuse the environmental authorisations to Karpowership for its three gas to power through powership projects.

“Minister Creecy determined that it was appropriate to remit the matter to the competent authority so that the various gaps in information and the procedural defects in relation to the public participation process that led to the rejection of the Karpowership’s applications for the environmental authorisations, could be addressed during the reconsideration of the environmental authorisation applications.”

According to information at the department’s disposal, he said that the environmental impact assessment reports for the projects in accordance with the 2014 EIA regulations must be submitted on or before 13 January next year. 

“Seeing that the above-mentioned projects are designated as Strategic Integrated Projects [in terms of the Infrastructure Development Act], the competent authority will within 57 days of receipt of the reports make a decision on the above-mentioned applications for environmental authorisation,” he said.

‘We’re bringing on additional specialists’ – Karpowership SA

Bloomberg recently reported that Karpowership will refile an application to the department “in a bid to move its project forward at a time when the country is suffering its worst-ever power cuts”. The application, it said, will be filed by 8 January and a response from the department will be given by the end of March. “The company will then aim to complete its financial arrangements in May and electricity from its gas-fired power plants mounted on ships may be supplied about a year later,” it reported.

Karpowership SA told the M&G this week: “Karpowership SA acknowledges the [department of forestry, fishery and the environment’s] position on the questions raised and is doing everything in its power, bringing on additional specialists and resources to ensure all amendments requested by the department are met in a timely fashion. We remain committed to working alongside critical stakeholders towards ensuring that South Africa meets its high demand for electricity supply.”

‘Walking dead’

Karpowership is like the “walking dead”, remarked Liziwe McDaid, the strategic lead for sustainable development, social and environmental justice organisation, Green Connection. “They started off by trying to get some exemption under Covid, which was rejected eventually. 

“They went through the process of trying to get environmental authorisation — the process was flawed. We believe they didn’t have the right information and they were rejected. They then tried to appeal the rejection so each time they get held back. For me, I don’t see them as a solution.”

Both the Green Connection and the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse have taken the National Energy Regulator of South Africa to court for granting generation permis to Karpowership.  

“So, there’s no easy fix for them … We have to ask why there is such a slow process for renewables, and yet Karpower is still wandering around,” McDaid said.

Her nonprofit had not yet been provided with any formal notifications about Karpowership’s revised process. “We’re already in October and we’ve been given no information … They can’t just come to us at the last moment. The law is clear from the environmental side of things, that you can’t ask people to comment over the December holidays.

“They have to redo all of their studies. It was clear in [Creecy’s] report that they have to do an acoustics study — they can’t just cut and paste from somewhere else because the topography underwater is different … there seems to be so many hurdles they have to get through,” said McDaid.

This is not a “desktop fix”, she said. “It’s real studies, real science, that must be done. And we as the public and NGOs, we are entitled to comment on that. So it can’t just be a case of getting a group of people into a room and saying, ‘look what we did, we modelled things,’ it needs to be real information.”