Climate and Environmental Justice Groups Torpedo 'Power Ships'

Turkish company Karpowership has been included in the preferred bids for South Africa’s Risk Mitigation Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (RMIPPPP), to supply three power ships to alleviate the country’s power supply woes.

The ships have been approved in three ports, Coega, in the Eastern Cape, Richards Bay in KwaZulu-Natal and Saldanha in the Western Cape where they would be plugged into the existing Eskom grid to provide power on demand.

The RMIPPPP was released to the market in August 2020 with the aim of alleviating the country’s electricity supply constraints and to reduce the extensive utilisation of diesel-based peaking electrical generators in the medium-to-long-term. The bid submission closed on 22 December 2020 and attracted a total of 28 bid responses with a potential contracted capacity of approximately 5,117MW.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Processes on the proposed gas to power powerships projects at three South African ports have since been underway at designated locations stipulated for deployment with various levels of civil society participation inclusive of environmental advocacy groups.

This was of course preceeded by the exposure of the abuse of emergency exemption clauses in the National Environmental Management Act followed by National Environmental Affairs Minister Barbara Creecy cancelling the Exemption Permit and insisting that the company follow the same rules as other companies.

But she stopped short of prosecuting the company, its consultants and government officials for apparent violations of environmental laws which provide for stiff fines and jail terms for anyone who “wilfully, knowingly or negligently” provides incorrect or misleading information to the department and environmental inspectors.

It is noted that the emergency power procurement project has also been designated as a Strategic Infrastructure Project (SIP) by the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission which allows such projects to be “expeditiously implemented”. However, bidders have been selected on condition that they get all the required approvals, including environmental authorisations, and that they meet the port authority requirements.

Climate and environmental justice groups are concerned that the use of gas locks the country into continued use of fossil fuels and rising greenhouse gas emissions as the Karpowership project is slated to run for up to 20 years.

Presentations at the webinar suggest that Karpowership emissions in Richards Bay alone would generate about 19.5 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions over the next two decades, along with local emissions of about 1,354 tons of nitrogen oxides per year, 270 tons of PM10 particulate dust pollution and 54 tons of sulphur dioxide emissions (per year).

Representatives from the Karpowership Group highlight its deployment as an advantage for the country.

During the EIA webinar it was noted that the powerships were seen as an “affordable, sustainable and clean” energy option and far cheaper than diesel-powered Open Cycle Gas Turbine stations currently supplying peaking power from Eskom.

Environmental campaigners and energy analysts have levelled a broadside at the Karpowership floating gas-fired electricity generation project mooted for the three ports. In addition, small-scale fishing communities and lobby groups are urging members of the public to have their say on the Draft Environmental Impact Assessment Reports (EIR) on the proposed gas to power powerships projects.

According to the social and environmental justice organisation, Green Connection, this deal could be devastating for the country’s affected small-scale subsistence fishing communities.

Environmental Activists are encouraging South Africans to submit their own comments even at the eleventh hour, and said: “The country’s choices should always be in the best interest of the people, the environment, and then the economy.”

Why Powerships?

Powers hips are cost-effective, privately owned and operated floating power stations which can be moored at South African harbours. Each power ship contains its own generation, electrical control, and substation components. The ship also includes its own maintenance workshop and engineering capabilities.

The onboard substation can be connected to the national grid without lengthy delays or complicated engineering. The ships can operate both on liquid fuels (HFO/RFO) and natural gas. With high efficiency and availability, power ships can provide uninterrupted electricity at various high voltage levels. Operation and maintenance of the power ships are also provided for by the Karadeniz Energy Group, the holding company of Karpowership South Africa.

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