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DFFE and lobbyist groups threaten to derail solution to electricity crisis

Picture: Karpowership

Picture: Karpowership

Published Jun 24, 2021


Johannesburg – An energy plan to ease load shedding is under renewed pressure today after officials refused to award environmental permits to a power project that promises to generate enough electricity to power 800,000 homes and remove one full stage of load shedding.

The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) threw out the Environmental Impact Assessments submitted on behalf of Karpowership SA following complaints by lobbying group Green Connection.

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A series of attempts to secure new electricity for South Africa have failed in recent years and the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) presented a plan to address South Africa’s energy needs.

DMRE’s plan had Powerships in Richards Bay, Coega and Saldanha as a central component, but the decision by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment to refuse permits threatens to derail the DMRE’s plan to ease load shedding and put an end to the economic crippling impact of rolling blackouts.

The economic impact of the project not proceeding is substantial. The decision by the DFFE raises new questions about the ability of South Africa to ever successfully complete an energy tender despite the economic damage of load shedding, given the continued efforts by special interests to block energy projects from moving forward.

In a statement last week, the Eastern Cape Maritime Business Chamber endorsed the Karpowership SA projects.

Its chairperson, Unathi Sonti, said: “This is the kind of commitment the Eastern Cape needs to ensure our people and businesses are positioned to leverage the emerging opportunities in maritime, power, transport and new gas industries in South Africa.

’’We have engaged with Karpowership SA on the wider opportunity and also note the scale of local investments planned for our port in Coega as well as those in Saldanha Bay and Richards Bay.

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’’The delivery of Karpowership SA’s three projects will see an important step-change not just in our ability to deliver energy security to an economy in dire straits, but also a critical boost as we work towards a more inclusive maritime economy that unlocks opportunities for black empowerment and access to commercial maritime ventures in South Africa."

Officials at the DFFE face further challenges about why the terms of the notice blocking environmental permits echoed so closely the complaint of the lobbying groups who opposed the projects.

The DFFE notice claims the application could not be properly evaluated because of the lack of a proper underwater noise study, something which the company disputes.

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The Green Connection lobby complaint cited the lack of a “specialist study” of “underwater noise” produced by the Powerships, warning it could damage fishing stocks. But The Star’s evaluation of the EIA shows that Karpowership SA did provide an underwater noise study carried out on an identical operating Powership in Ghana that is moored in a fishing port.

The Powerships – at Coega, Richards Bay and Saldanha Bay – are intended to provide up to 1220MW of peak time power supply and would eliminate an entire stage of load shedding. The ships could be in place within a year meaning the winter of 2022 would see fewer power cuts.

The Powerships, which would be fuelled by LNG, were selected alongside a raft of other technologies as part of the overall 2000MW tender.

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With the complaint by Green Connection and the rejection by DFFE, it is clear that special interest groups have made inroads toward derailing energy projects put forth by the government to address the crisis. Despite this setback, Karpowership SA vowed to address the misinformation and concerns raised by the DFFE and expressed hope for a review of the decision.

A spokesperson for the company said: “Karpowership SA, with its three projects, will provide 800 000 South African homes with cleaner, reliable, and affordable power, and South Africans should understand that the decision on behalf of the DFFE threatens the delivery of this power and will extend load shedding for years to come.

“Karpowership SA conducted a robust public participation process, met all South Africa's stringent environmental requirements, and is confident that it will win appeal against this decision.”

The Star

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