The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) has refused to provide Karpowership SA with environmental authorisation for its three powership-based gas-to-power projects, proposed for development at the ports of Richards Bay, Ngqura and Saldanha Bay.
The environmental impact assessment (EIA) applications were submitted in October 2020 ahead of the closing date for bidding under the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy’s (DMRE's) Risk Mitigation Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (RMIPPPP).
On March 18, Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe named eight preferred bidders under the 20-year RMIPPPP, including three fully imported Karpowership floating gas-fired power plants, which collectively secured 1 220 MW of the 2 000 MW on offer.
The announcement was immediately controversial, triggering both legal action by a losing bidder and objections by environmental groups.
The final reports were submitted to the department for decision-making on 26 April, providing the Competent Authority until June 25 to reach a decision, as the projects were classified as Strategic Integrated Projects, which meant a 57-day timeframe, as Gazetted in the National Infrastructure Act, applied.
In a statement released on June 24, the DEFF said that, after due consideration of all relevant information presented as part of the EIA process, the Competent Authority in the department had decided to refuse the applications for environmental authorisation.
“The Competent Authority in the department adjudicated these applications in terms of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) and specific sections of the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations,” the statement reads.
The reasons for decision indicate that Karpowership SA failed to comply with the prescribed NEMA requirements relating to public consultation, with the draft EIA reports having been subjected to public review for a period of less than 30 days and the final reports submitted containing significant new information not canvassed during the public participation process.
They also indicate that the actual and potential impacts on the environment, as well as socio-economic impacts, particularly on small-scale fisheries, could not be fully evaluated, owing to an absence of proper underwater noise impact studies.
The DFFE statement indicates that, should any person wish to lodge an appeal against the decision, this should be submitted to the appeal administrator.
In response, Karpowership SA argued that the DFFE allowed a misinformation campaign, funded by special interests, to derail the DMRE's strategic plan to end load-shedding and address South Africa’s economic and energy crisis.
The company said in a statement that it had conducted a robust public participation process, met all South Africa's stringent environmental requirements and that it was “confident that it will win the appeal against this decision”.
“Karpowership SA, with its three projects, will provide 800 000 South African homes with cleaner, reliable, and affordable power, and South Africans should understand that the decision on behalf of the DFFE threatens the delivery of this power and will extend load-shedding for years to come.”
The DMRE, meanwhile, said it noted the media statement by the DFFE announcing the decision not to grant environmental authorisations for the three applications submitted by Karpowership SA, which were among the 11 RMIPPPP preferred-bidder projects.
"The objective of the RMIPPPP is to address the immediate electricity supply constraints and reduce the extensive utilisation of diesel-based peaking electrical generators. The procurement is meant to unlock 1 995 MW of new capacity that can come online within 12 to 18 months after financial close which is end of July 2021," it said in a statement.
The DMRE added that it would await formal communication by the preferred bidder on the decision by DFFE before making any further pronouncements.
The Green Connection, which had been alleging that the EIA processes were flawed, welcomed the DFFE's decision to refuse all three environmental authorisations applications.
The Green Connection’s strategic lead Liziwe McDaid said the decision supported the view of various civil society groups and coastal communities that the concerns of local affected communities should be properly taken into account and their issues properly studied.
"[We] hope that the DFFE will, going forward, always make the effort to continue to check that all the relevant information is presented in EIAs – especially for those projects that will have a high impact – and hold consultants accountable for anything less.”