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The National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) claims that it conducted a full public participation process, which it says included a public hearing held on 19 August, before it approved seven generation licences for preferred bidders under the Risk Mitigation Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (RMIPPPP).

Green Connection raised concerns that the Karpowership project, which according to the organisation has been mired in controversy since it was touted as an emergency solution more than a year ago, had been given licence approval. On Tuesday last week, Nersa announced that it approved seven bidders under the RMIPPPP, including three Karpowership SA projects – in Saldanha Bay, Coega in Gqeberha and Richards Bay. According to Karpowership’s website, a powership is a self-floating power station which runs on natural liquid gas to generate power and the onboard substation is connected via overhead cables from the ship’s own transmission tower to the national grid.

The approval of a licence for Karpowership is controversial, according to Green Connection, because the project had failed to gain environmental authorisation from the Department of Forestry Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) before the application deadline of July 2020. 

A statement from the DFFE confirms that the three applications that were submitted for environmental authorisation were refused. The statement says that the application came as a request from the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) which is accused of intervening in favour of Karpowership SA by Green Connection: “The DMRE stepped in and extended the supposed non-negotiable financial closure deadline to 30 September.” This followed the announcement that court hearings into allegations of corruption in the Karpowerships project had been postponed to 30 November 2021.

Last Friday, climate activists marched to parliament for “an inclusive socially, economically, and ecologically just energy and mining future” but were also calling for change in leadership at the DMRE.

One of the demands of climate activists on Friday was for the scrapping of the Karpowership project. Photo by Vincent Lali

On the day the energy regulator approved the seven bidders, small-scale fishers from the Northern, Western and Eastern Cape were holding an Ocean’s Tribunal where they were saying that the approval of the Karpowership project will have a devastating impact on the livelihoods of fishers and on the environment. Green Connection’s strategic lead, Liziwe McDaid, said small-scale fishers had been betrayed: “Nersa’s decision is like a kick in the teeth of the many small-scale fishing communities we work with, who have been fighting so hard to protect their livelihoods and the marine environment they depend on. The powership project could cause untold, lasting damage to the environment, due to noise and potential pollution in our oceans. This will have a devastating knock-on effect on the lives of the coastal communities who rely on the oceans to put food on the table.”

Archive photo: A group of fishermen waiting for a go-ahead to sail into the sea to catch squid after a three-year wait. Photo by Elitsha reporter

Carmelita Mostert, from Saldanha Coastal Links said that only ‘black business’ had been consulted on the project, not fishing communities. She said that the powerships would make noise and chase fish away from the shore. “We are on record to government and in the media that we do not want the Karpowerships anchored off our shores for twenty years. It will scare away our fish and do who knows what to the marine life. And when that happens, we will starve to death,” said Mostert.

Barend Fredericks, a small-scale fisher from Knysna, does not trust the powership project for multiple reasons: “The oceans are a precious natural resource that not only gives us food – even those who are unemployed are guaranteed a meal – but it is also great for tourism and employment. The decision to grant licences for the power ships is truly short-sighted and, I believe, steeped in greed and corruption,” he said.

Vuyiseka Mani from the Eastern Cape Environmental Network and based in Gqeberha, said that DMRE minister, Gwede Mantashe, sold the communities to the highest bidder and that the interests of the community and small-scale fishers were not considered. “There is a high unemployment rate in Gqeberha and the project requires skills that most people do not have. Our oceans would be dirty and polluted. Gwede said the project would create job opportunities and grow the economy but the question is, at whose expense?” said Mani.

A fisherman from Coastal Links in Port St. John’s, Ntsindiso Nogcavu, said that the 36 communities that live along the coast in the OR Tambo Municipality were not consulted. He said that they are at the mercy of capitalists who use the politicians as gatekeepers. “The government does not listen to us. We are preparing to go to communities to educate them about their rights especially the right to say no. Capitalists can’t walk all over our rights simply because they have money. I can see nothing good coming from the powership project. Not only will it be detrimental to the environment but it will also cause more dysfunction in our communities by adding to unemployment and community disintegration,” said Nogcavu who is a third-generation fisherman.

The DMRE had not responded at the time of publishing but their response will be added when it is received.