New challenge to delay Karpowership's Richards Bay plant

23rd November 2023 By: News24Wire

Karpowership has been hit with a new challenge, as civil society groups have appealed the environmental approval it received for its proposed Richards Bay plant.

The groups groundWork and the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA), who are represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights, submitted their appeal, they said in a statement. "The appeal is also being supported by three additional organisations with similar objectives – Natural Justice, the Green Connection and Oceans Not Oil," the statement read.

In October, Forestry, Fisheries and Environment Minister Barbara Creecy approved the environmental authorisation for the project, after the company was allowed another opportunity to resubmit its Environmental Impact Assessment. This followed a previous appeals process where environmental authorisation for three of its proposed plants was eventually revoked, given issues with public consultation processes.

Karpowership SA was named a preferred bidder in the Risk Mitigation Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme of 2021.

It proposed three projects - a 450MW floating gas power plant in Richards Bay, a 450MW plant in Coega, Eastern Cape and a 320MW plant in Saldanha Bay.

The projects had been criticised for being costly – with estimates of it being north of R200 billion over a 20-year period. It was also subject to litigation, which was ultimately dismissed by a court, News24 previously reported.

The new appeal, however, will delay the Richards Bay plant, which is supposed to reach financial close by the end of 2023.

Karpowership SA cannot go ahead with the project until the appeal process is finalised.

In a statement, Karpowership SA said it acknowledges the new challenge to the environmental authorisation for its Richards Bay project:

While we respect any role in protecting the environment, these groups' continuous challenges fail to substantively counter the exhaustive Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) methodology, which is based on comprehensive research and enhanced public participation. The quality of our EA was recognised by the DFFE's decision to grant approval.

- Karpowership SA

Karpowership SA said that its LNG-to-power projects will play an important role in addressing the country's ongoing energy crisis, and would support the further integration of renewable energy into the energy mix, while offering grid stability through its base-load power.

Karpowership SA added that the DFFE also issued it a provisional atmospheric emission license for the Richards Bay project. It said this demonstrates the company complies with the required environmental laws and standards.

News24 has sent questions to the DFFE, and will update the story once response is received.

"Our focus remains on finalising agreements to reach financial close and to contribute to eliminating load shedding and promoting economic growth in South Africa," the company said.

The appellants put forward that there are still issues regarding the public participation process – specifically a lack of "adequate" consultation with local fishing communities whose livelihoods, cultural ways of life and food security would be impacted.

They also stress that there was a lack of consultation regarding a biodiversity agreement Karpowership SA reached with the provincial wildlife authority in KwaZulu-Natal Ezemvelo Wildlife ahead of obtaining environmental authorisation.

Karpowership SA had bought and donated a game farm to Ezemvelo, which in turn indicated it would not object to the environmental authorisation being issued.

"There has also been a lack of consultation around the controversial biodiversity offset, which has been shrouded in secrecy and brought in at a very late stage, with no consultation held to explain what this entails," the statement from the appellants read.

"…This is supposed to compensate for the biodiversity loss that the project will cause to the sensitive estuarine ecosystem in and around the port, in turn devastating critical fish nurseries that stock at least 300km of coastline," they added.

They also suggest the climate change impact assessment conducted is inadequate.

If this appeal is dismissed, then the appellants have the option to approach the court to review the matter.