Floating Eastern Cape power proposal red-flagged

An example of one of the Karpowership vessels. This one is stationed off Mozambique
An example of one of the Karpowership vessels. This one is stationed off Mozambique
Image: SUPPLIED

Huge gas-fuelled “floating power” barges could become a standard feature off the coast of Port Elizabeth as the government pushes forward in a bid to sign a deal with Turkish energy giant Karpowership.

Nelson Mandela Bay environmentalists have, however,  torpedoed the idea that has quietly surfaced during the lockdown, reportedly with key environmental scrutiny conditions waived.

Available information indicates if the proposal is approved the electricity will be generated by a fleet of five power barges, owned by Karpowership, which will be docked at key points around the SA coast, including at the Port of Ngqura in Algoa Bay.

The Herald sent questions to department of environment forestry and  fisheries spokesperson Albi Modise on Wednesday about the proposal — and news that the department had used an emergency clause related to the Covid-19 pandemic to approve it without the power company having to undertake an environmental impact assessment (EIA).

Modise said on Sunday that the department would likely send a statement through later in the day, but nothing had been received by the time of going to print.

Wildlife and Environment Society of SA Algoa Bay branch chair Gary Koekemoer said his organisation was deeply concerned about the proposal.

If the reports are accurate it’s simply madness at all levels — economic, environmental and people-wise

“If the reports are accurate it’s simply madness at all levels — economic, environmental and people-wise.

“Gas-generated electricity is incredibly expensive in any format, uses huge amounts of water we don’t have and, as we understand it, the proponents have circumvented EIA regulations through a technical window.”

Koekemoer said measured against available alternative clean energy sources, the proposal was even more unacceptable.

“We are blessed in Nelson Mandela Bay with an abundance of wind and [sun], and rooftop solar projects across the city would offer the possibility of sustainable local jobs with limited environmental impact.

“There are more than 15 wind farms in our proximity, which is indicative of the resource available.

“And if we model such developments along the lines of the community-based Tsitsikamma Wind Farm, local communities could benefit greatly,” he said.

The society called on environment, forestry and  fisheries minister Barbara Creecy to act urgently and firmly against the project.

“We call upon the minister to intervene and to put a stop to the madness,” Koekemoer said.

It’s absolute knee-jerk, short-term thinking. It will waste taxpayers’ money and we have no indication of its potential environmental impact on Algoa Bay or the Addo Marine Protected Area specifically

“It’s absolute knee-jerk, short-term thinking.

“It will waste taxpayers’ money and we have no indication of its potential environmental impact on Algoa Bay or the Addo Marine Protected Area specifically.

“The proposal makes no sense and we will certainly oppose it.”

Algoa Bay Conservation spokesperson Ronelle Friend said the proposal, if approved, would result in severe air pollution that would impinge directly on the adjacent Addo Marine Protected Area.

Friend, an environmental chemist, said Karpowership vessels produced electricity by burning liquefied natural gas or heavy fuel oil (HFO).

“Because of the short supply of liquefied natural gas in Nelson Mandela Bay, HFO will likely be the selected energy source.

“Heavy fuel oil is widely available in Nelson Mandela Bay as it is already used for ship-to-ship refuelling at sea.

“It’s the cheapest fuel but it’s also the most polluting.”

One of the main effects from the Karpowership process on the environment would be emissions of hazardous pollutants into the atmosphere, she said.

“Apart from black soot emissions, the emissions also contain high sulphur and nitrogen oxides, toxic species including heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and even dioxins and furans.

High fuel oil is notorious for poor quality and can vary significantly in heavy metal and organic compound concentrations, making it difficult to predict and model the emissions

“High fuel oil is notorious for poor quality and can vary significantly in heavy metal and organic compound concentrations, making it difficult to predict and model the emissions.

“With the prevailing wind directions at the Port of Ngqura being south-south-west, the emissions will be carried over the port and will settle slap-bang in the middle of the marine protected area.”

Furthermore, waste water from the power-generation process would have to be treated, as prevailing currents in the area would move it directly into the marine protected area, Friend said.

“We need information on the nature and the concentrations of the contaminants that would require treatment, and this information would be contained in an EIA.”

An EIA was designed to assess all the ramifications of a proposed project,  including potential damage to the environment, and it informed both decisionmakers and the public.

Already another major project in Algoa Bay, offshore bunkering, had been launched in 2016 with no EIA being undertaken, she said.

“Our environmental rights have to be protected.

“We appeal to the department of environment, forestry and  fisheries that a complete EIA and specialist studies must be performed prior to considering this floating power process in the Port of Ngqura.”

Senior environmental assessment practitioner Dr Mike Cohen said proper scrutiny of a project of this nature was fundamental.

It would set a very dangerous precedent to invoke the emergency clause in this case

“It would set a very dangerous precedent to invoke the emergency clause in this case.”

Karpowership also failed to respond to questions sent to it on Sunday.

The company’s floating power stations already serve a dozen countries, many of them in Africa.

In an interview with Africa Oil & Power in July, the company’s sales director, Patrick O’Driscoll, confirmed the company had responded to a request for information issued by the department of mineral resources and  energy in December.

Related to that response, Karpowership was in a position to supply up to 2,000MW to SA if required.

The power barges would be aligned with landside substations, and cables would be used to transfer the power to the Eskom grid, he said.

According to environmental journalist Tony Carnie, writing in the Daily Maverick, while an EIA was needed for a major power-supply project, the section 30A emergency clause in SA’s environmental law had instead been invoked in this case, apparently to avoid having to undertake the assessment.

Section 30A was intended to cater for emergencies that could cause severe harm to the environment, human life and property, but a department of environment document in the Daily Maverick’s possession showed emergency approval had been granted after linking the proposal to SA’s Covid-19 challenges.

O’Driscoll confirmed the company had been issued a section 30A directive by the department and said that, in his view, Karpowership’s supply of power constituted an emergency remedy for power outages affecting coronavirus care facilities.

Asked about the Ngqura link, Transnet National Ports Authority strategic projects GM Nico Walters said on Thursday that none of the authority’s ports had been approached by Karpowership.

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