Our Burning Planet

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Energy regulator to oppose court application by ecogroup to review Karpowership licences

The Karadeniz Powership Osman Khan. (Photo: Wikimedia)

The National Energy Regulator of SA has told The Green Connection that it will oppose its court application to review and set aside the decision to grant three electricity generation licences to Karpowership South Africa.

The National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) last week notified The Green Connection that it will oppose the sustainable development NGO’s court application to review and set aside the decision to grant three electricity generation licences to Karpowership South Africa.

This was on the same day that the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Gwede Mantashe, laid out the department’s budget for the 2022/23 financial year.

Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe. (Photo: Gallo Images / Felix Dlangamandla)

In September 2021, Nersa approved the Karpowership licences despite the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment’s refusal to grant environmental authorisation. 

Nersa ignored the public outcry, particularly from small-scale fishing communities around Saldanha Bay in the Western Cape, Ngqurha (Coega) in the Eastern Cape and Richards Bay in KwaZulu-Natal, where these floating power plants were to be anchored.

Small-scale fishers are mainly concerned about the irreparable damage that powerships and other oil and gas projects could cause to marine life and ecosystems, thereby affecting their livelihoods.

The Green Connection’s Liz McDaid said that as Africa’s largest carbon emitter, South Africa not only lacked the vision needed to address the climate crisis, but the government seemed to oppose the president’s goals for a just transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. 

“While we welcome the increased commitment to renewable energy, there are still too many projects that do not appear to be in the public interest, such as Karpowerships. 

“Over the past year or so, several coastal communities around the country have expressed their dissatisfaction with oil and gas exploration. And the December 2021 court judgment against Shell found that it was wholly insufficient to merely consult traditional leaders. 

“We must have proper, meaningful public participation with all who may be affected,” she said.

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McDaid said The Green Connection has been opposing powerships since early 2021.

“First were the flawed environmental authorisation processes, then came the electricity generation licence application process, which Nersa still approved despite Karpowership being refused an environmental authorisation.

“It was because of these flawed processes that The Green Connection filed its papers (on 25 April 2022) to review the Nersa generation licence. The organisation now waits for Nersa to provide all the records that justifies its decision to grant the licences. 

“The deadline for Nersa to provide these records was 20 May 2022, but Nersa requested an extension,” she said.

McDaid said both the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy and Nersa are supposed to make decisions in the public’s best interest and seek to address the climate crisis with a view to a just transition to renewable energy. 

“The minister harps on sector plans like the gas plan and plans for nuclear, but fails to provide any clarity about holistic and socially inclusive energy planning. 

“When can the country expect to see the updated integrated resource plan instead of this piecemeal approach that, to date, appears set to undermine our climate commitments?

“What we need is a bolder vision for our future energy plans. We need a roadmap – specifically the integrated energy plan as outlined in section 6 of the National Energy Act – to lead us out of the energy crisis we are in. 

“But so far, we do not see the minister showing the necessary leadership to drive such a process, which would require meaningful input from all South Africans,” McDaid said.

She added that South Africans are united in their frustration with load shedding. 

“What we should see is more effort to address this, from the grassroots. For example, the government could give small businesses and homes a tax break for putting up solar systems – it should also expedite the process to allow such generators to feed into the grid,” she said. 

The Green Connection said in a statement on Monday that it remains concerned about Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe’s ongoing “divisive comments” about those who are anti fossil fuel. 

“With the country facing a climate emergency, it seems bizarre for a government minister to deride and oppose people’s efforts to combat climate change. 

“In addition, the minister continues to push for the very fuels which will make things worse, and which will likely lead to more suffering for people on the ground,” read the statement.

The Green Connection’s community outreach coordinator, Neville van Rooy, said: “Is this now officially an onslaught from the government and industry, to bully communities and violate their rights to a healthy and clean environment? 

“Even after two court interdicts that stopped seismic surveys – part of the initial phase to search for oil and gas – demonstrated the people’s opposition, the government is still forcefully pushing for these fossil fuels. 

“In our view, communities want to phase out oil and gas, and move to the just transition, but, instead, more oil and gas projects are popping up without proper, meaningful community participation.”

He said the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy’s agenda seems to ignore climate crises. 

“The recent floods in KZN should be a clear warning that this is no longer a distant phenomenon. Climate change is at our doorstep, and we cannot afford to be stranded with fossil fuel decisions any longer. 

“We have a right to choose the energy future we want for our country, and the future we want is renewable,” said Van Rooy.

“It would be un-African of us to just sit by and let the government’s sluggish climate response potentially ruin the country’s chance for a just transition. 

“Not only will we have to survive more floods and droughts, but our people are missing out on the many accessible socioeconomic opportunities that will come as part of the transition, if it is done in partnership with the people.”

On Friday, 20 May, Eskom gave notice that it would not oppose The Green Connection’s application and would abide by the court’s decision. 

McDaid said that, to the best of their knowledge, Eskom had not signed the power purchase agreement with Karpowership. To them, this indicates that Eskom might also have concerns about the impact of potentially higher electricity prices if the powership deal goes ahead. DM/OBP

 

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