Environmental victory hailed after Karpowership deal dumped
Share this article:
In what has been described as a major win for environmental rights organisations and most importantly, the environment, the South Africa government has refused all three Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) applications submitted in October 2020 by Karpowership SA (Pty) Ltd.
This follows environmental rights organisations lobbying the government against the Karpowership SA applications that sought environmental authorisation for the development of gas to have been powered via power ships moored at three ports around the country: Richards Bay, Ngqura and Saldanha.
The Turkish-led Karpowership SA consortium was named preferred bidder in March to supply the bulk of 2 000MW in capacity that the government is procuring to reduce load shedding.
In a statement the government said: “The Competent Authority in the Department has decided, after due consideration of all relevant information presented as part of the environmental impact assessment process for all three applications in question, to refuse the applications for the environmental authorisations.”
An environmental impact assessment (EIA) is a mandatory process to assess the environmental consequences and viability of a project and how harm can be mitigated.
It was found that the consortium’s Environmental Impact Assessment had failed the test.
The decision came after the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment received notices in May and June 2021 from The Green Connection, an environmental non-profit organisation which specialises in the promotion of sustainable renewable power generation and also advocates against off-shore gas and oil exploration in South Africa.
Notices were also received from the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), a group comprised of activist lawyers who work with communities and civil society organisations in South Africa to uphold our constitutional right to a healthy environment.
The notices alleged suspected non-compliance with certain Environmental Impact Assessment criteria in relation to the Saldanha application by the appointed Environmental Assessment Practitioner (EAP).
The application was suspended on June 8 this year by the Department pending a detailed investigation which concluded that the EIA for Saldanha was not sufficient.
This led to the eventual refusal of all three Environmental Impact Assessments on Wednesday this week (June 23, 2021).
The decision to refuse all three applications came after the CER recommended that the Department suspend all further EIA processes for Richards Bay and Ngqura and investigate these deficiencies further.
By refusing the EIA by Karpowership SA (Pty) for Saldanha, the Activist organisations said the Department had set a precedent and should apply the same decision-making criteria to both the Richards Bay and Ngqura Assessments, which it had done.
Green Connection strategic lead Liz McDaid told the local media that the basis for the complaint was the practitioners’ failure to conduct a specialist study of the potential consequences or impacts of underwater noise generated by the ships – on the environment and marine resources of Saldanha Bay – prior to the submission of their final EIA report.
The CER shared some of the other main reasons as to why the applications were denied, these included:
• Deficient public participation processes due to documents not being available online.
• Documents being password protected.
• The Environmental Impact Assessment submitted to the Department contains significant new information and changes which were not made available to the public for consultation before submission.
• Uncertainty by the Environmental Assessment Practitioner regarding the listed activities applied for and whether they were applicable. This led to the Practitioner not being able to make informed decisions.
• Marine Ecology Specialist Study stated that the noise impact study must been conducted; it was not.
• Peer review of estuary impacts report stated that the impacts identified were not a true reflection of the scale of the project in terms of influence. There are impacts that could possibly trigger on a regional and global scale, these needed to be reassessed.
• No clear recommendation from Estuarine Specialist.
• BirdLife South Africa and South Africa National Parks raise serious concerns around underwater noise on marine birdspecies and penguins.
• Most specialist studies indicated limitations and gaps which raised concerns as to the adequacy of the assessment.
Karpowership is a Turkish-based energy company established in 1996. The company began construction powerships, floating power stations, in 2010 and has so far produced 25 powerships, most deployed along the coast of west African countries namely The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Guinea and Senegal.
According to the company website, its powerships generate 80% of Sierra Leone’s power needs.
Karpowership SA (Pty) was formed by the Turkish- based energy company in partnership with South African investors.
Karpowership-SA was selected to provide 1 220MW of electricity to help alleviate load shedding following a tender process. Eight other projects using a range of technologies, including renewables, batteries and hybrid systems, were also selected under the 2 000MW programme.
All bidders were required to submit detailed studies as part of their bid submission processes.
The company planned to locate the three powership projects at the Ports of Richards Bay, Ngqura and Saldanha. These were to generate electricity from natural gas. The electricity was to be fed through transmission lines to substations linking to the national grid.
The powerships were to be assembled off-site and be delivered fully equipped and functional to the different Ports.
The applications came as a response to the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy’s requests for emergency power supply interventions linked to the Risk Mitigation Independent Power Procurement Program (RMIPPP).
The applications were submitted in terms of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) and specific sections of the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations. The final reports regarding the EIA’s were submitted to the Department on 26 April 2021.
The Green Connection’s Complaint letter highlighted that the Marine Ecological Assessment Report for the Saldanha project did not properly assess the impact of noise on marine life, and in turn the impact on the small scale fishers; that the Marine Ecological Assessment itself concluded that a quantitative underwater noise assessment should be conducted; that the reliance on the impact of noise study in Ghana is insufficient; and that these and other deficiencies do not allow for the Department to make an informed decision on the Environmental Impact Assessment.
In a letter to the Department dated 17 June 2021, Michelle Koyama, attorney representing The Centre for Environmental Rights, requested for suspension of the EIA process for the Karpowership projects at Ngqura and Richard’s Bay in terms of Section 14(3) of the EIA Regulations Act of 2014.
The letter advised that the majority of the expert reports for the three Karpowership EIAs, such as the Noise Impact Assessment and the Marine Ecological Impact Assessment are almost identical to one another.
The assessments bear the same of similar deficiencies and omissions for all three sites even though they are situated in three geographically, environmentally and ecologically diverse regions.
All three expert reports in the Marine Ecological Assessment state that no site-specific quantitative study was conducted to assess the impact of noise on the marine life. This is just one of the critical assessments that were disregarded in the EIA.
The letter further outlined the ecological diversity located in and around the port of Richards Bay which is home to number of ecologically sensitive estuaries and critically endangered mangrove swamps which support numerous birds, fish and other marine ecology, including those that are critically endangered themselves.
Ecological important assets around Richards Bay include the Kwambonambi Dune Forest, Kwambonambi Hygrophilous Grassland, KZN Coastal Forest, Protected Mangrove Forest Swamp Forest, Richards Bay Nature Reserve, a protected area in terms of National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act, 2003 (Act No. 57 of 2003) and uMhlathuze Estuary, which is designated as an Important Bird Area (IBA).
The letter went on to outline the ecological assets of the Port of Ngqura and stated that it is gravely important to note that the Ngqura is situated within a Critical Biodiversity Area, close to the world-famous Addo Elephant National Park Marine Protected Area and the Algoa-Amathole Ecologically/Biologically Significant Marine Area (EBSA).
Algoa Bay has also recently been granted the status as one of the world’s four Whale Heritage Sites by the World Cetacean Alliance in partnership with World Animal Protection.
The letter concludes that since the impact of noise on the fish and marine ecology at all three sites has not been adequately addressed, it follows then that the small-scale fisheries, and subsistence fishermen would not have been adequately informed of the impact of the Karpowerships in Richard’s Bay and also in Ngqura. The public participation regarding these two ports is therefore deficient and should be addressed.
The CER recommended that the Department suspend all further EIA processes for Richards Bay and Ngqura and investigate these deficiencies further. failed to conduct a proper public participation process or heed experts who said additional studies were needed to quantify the potentially destructive impact the powerships could have on birds, fish and fishing communities.