Our Burning Planet


Karpowership gas leviathan bubbles back up — again

Karpowership gas leviathan bubbles back up — again
The Karmol LNGT Powership Asia floating storage and regasification unit, operated by Karpowership, docked at Cape Town port on 19 April 2022. (Photo: Dwayne Senior / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Like a cat with umpteen lives, the battle-scarred Karpowership leviathan has resurfaced in the public sphere, pushing as hard as ever to clinch a multibillion-rand deal to burn gas in three port cities and supply ‘emergency power’ to Eskom for two decades.

After being caught in the slips, stumped and clean bowled during a controversial environmental impact assessment (EIA) process over the past two years, consultants acting for the Turkish-controlled Karpowership group sent out flyers this week to announce an immediate — albeit very brief — resuscitation of the public consultation and approval procedures.

It hopes to generate 1,220MW of electricity by docking several gas-burning power and allied supply ships in the Richards Bay, Ngqura and Saldanha harbours.

While umpiring the process in August 2020, national environment minister Barbara Creecy revoked a controversial “Covid-19 emergency” exemption permit that her officials issued to Karpowership during its attempt to side-step environmental approval.

Last year, following a hastily completed EIA process in the three ports, her department refused to grant environmental approval because of several shortfalls. Then, earlier this year, Creecy dismissed the company’s appeal against her department’s decision.

Creecy declared that her department remained concerned about several aspects of the Karpowership plan.

This included the climate change impacts of emitting millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases and significant risks to fisheries, birds and marine organisms from underwater noise or hot water emissions from the powership exhaust stacks and cooling water circuits.

To many observers, that seemed a signal that the game was over.

Curiously, however, Creecy exercised her ministerial discretion to allow Karpowership to carry on batting when she remitted the matter to her department so that “various gaps and defects” in the public procedure process could be addressed during a fresh process of reconsidering and re-adjudicating the approval process.

New draft EIA report

In a notice sent to interested and affected parties on Monday night (24 October), consultancy group Triplo4 Sustainable Solutions said a new draft EIA report and new specialist reports would be published shortly and made available for public review for 33 days (from 10 November to 13 December).

As part of a new process to “enable meaningful participation”, the consultants would also host two public meetings, each three hours long, in each of the three port cities where the company hopes to moor floating power ships for the next 20 years.

These meetings are scheduled for Saldanha Bay (21 November), Richards Bay (23 November) and Gqeberha (25 November).

The eight-page background information documents for each port say that Triplo4 does not intend to provide any new or detailed information on the proposals at this stage. New information would only be provided in the draft EIA report published on 10 November.

Eskom role

Eskom, now with a newly appointed board, appeared to be keeping its head low when we contacted the state utility on 25 October for comment and clarity on its role in the Karpowership power procurement deal that was approved last year by Gwede Mantashe’s Department of Mineral Resources and Energy.

Nevertheless, Eskom’s media desk confirmed that no power purchase agreements had been signed with Karpowership for the three port projects. And nor was Eskom currently negotiating such an agreement.

Asked whether it had identified any significant concerns around estimated tariffs, lock-in periods or alternative power sources, Eskom said:

“Negotiations with bidders are the domain of the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy — IPP Office. Please refer to them for comment.”

Yet the background information documents published by Karpowership this week state explicitly that its gas-generated power from all three harbours would be fed into the national grid — and that Eskom would be the buyer.

Civil society reaction

In its reaction to the resuscitation of the EIA process, the Green Connection civil society group reiterated its concern that the Karpowership deal was slated to last 20 years.

As such, the contract was subject to fluctuating international gas prices and the rand/dollar exchange rate, which could translate into very expensive and increasingly unaffordable electricity tariffs for two decades.

Green Connection strategic lead Liz McDaid also noted that Karpowership had signed a deal with the Shell multinational group as its exclusive supplier of liquid natural gas.

“This seems like a great deal for Shell, but is it in the public interest?” she asked.

“Gas is not a transition fuel as it is 80 times worse than CO2 for the planet over the short term. We are supposed to be moving in a direction that tries to combat and reduce the climate damage… 

“If we are serious as a country about climate change, we need to move away from gas.”

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Sandy Camminga, who chairs the EIA committee of the Richards Bay Clean Air Association, fears that the public will now be overwhelmed with a new set of voluminous documents and amended specialist reports, and expected to digest and critique the implications over an unrealistic time period.

“Given the magnitude of this project and the volumes of documents we had to review previously, you can’t just bomb us with new documents and expect us to read them from beginning to end to establish what is different to the last set of documents.

“The consultants need to be very clear in the documents about the exact changes that have been made.”

Camminga said she believed the new 33-day timeline for public comment was “crazy”. DM/OBP

Absa OBP

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Onne Vegter says:

    Burning gas is way cleaner and environmentally friendly than burning coal. Seems like some people would rather sit in the dark and have thousands of businesses running noisy diesel generators than create some extra electricity using gas.

  • L Dennis says:

    I pray that no ill conceived plans will succeed to the detriment of our beautiful country.

  • Dave Martin says:

    We need Karpowerships to help reduce loadshedding. But we mustn’t sign a 20 year contract. Three years perhaps.

    We don’t actually have other options that can be brought online immediately, and the cost is MUCH less than the cost of loadshedding to the economy.

    It’s worth noting that the big Scatec Solar + 3 hours battery project came in at slightly more expensive than Karpowerships – and it will take about 18 months to come online. I prefer solar + battery for environmental reasons, but we need power immediately and so must take whatever we can get right NOW to end the economy destroying loadshedding.

  • Pat Collett says:

    20 years is unthinkable surely? Costs of renewable are falling each year and battery storage technology is changing and improving dramatically.
    By 2043 these power ships will be obsolete and well still be paying!

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