When Human Rights Gets In The Way Of ‘Progress’, NERSA Announces Questionable Action On Karpowerships

According to The Green Connection, the National Energy Regulator’s (Nersa) recent notifications published in the news media – giving the public mere days to prepare to participate in so-called ‘public’ hearings on the controversial Karpowership gas licensing applications – flies in the face of what South Africa’s Human Rights Month is supposed to stand for. In a move that clearly undermines South Africans’ right to meaningful participation, the notices were published in the news media just days before the hearings were to take place. Following a public outcry, these hearings have now been postponed by a few days (to start on 25 March). If NERSA was serious about hearing the voices of stakeholders, they would have issued an amended notice of the public hearings and republished these notices in the media, with at least 14 days from the date of the last republished newspaper advertisement.

The Green Connection’s Community Outreach Coordinator Neville van Rooy says, “We are utterly dissatisfied with how this announcement has been made and are concerned that it may not even have reached many of the people in Saldanha, Ngqura and Richards Bay who will be affected thereby, and in particular poor and historically disadvantaged community members and small-scall fishers. How is it fair that the public were only given a few days’ notice, while the Gas Act Rules say the public should be given at least fourteen (14) days’ notice for public hearings? We only became aware of NERSA’s notice when it was circulated in social media on 15 March, with the public expected to submit requests to participate by the 16th, since the hearings were to kick off on the 18th.  This was too short notice to be considered meaningful public participation, and even the extended date is too short. In our view communities are not being afforded the legally required notification period, and our rights to procedurally fair decision-making are being undermined by Nersa”

The Green Connection provided written comment to Nersa on the Karpowership gas license applications at the beginning of March yet received no notification about these hearings regarding the construction and operation of various Karpowership gas-related facilities. What is not understood however, is why this process is being rushed when there is already so much controversy around this project, and while there are still so many questions about the suitability and sustainability of the 20-year Karpowership projects as measures to fill the short-term electricity generation gap. At a time when we should be taking steps to address the climate change crisis, why is the Department of Mineral Resources and Environment’s (DMRE) so keen to lock South Africa into a 20-year project that will emit significant emissions of methane (a greenhouse gas with more climate warming potential than carbon dioxide)?  Is Karpowership – which will not only potentially cost electricity users in the form of higher tariffs when compared with recent renewable energy offerings, but will also negatively affect our oceans and those communities who rely on it – getting preferential treatment? Why?

“In addition to its failure to give adequate notice, we also understand that these hearings – which should involve all the affected coastal communities where these floating powerships are planned to be moored – will take place virtually. Online platforms are not affordable nor accessible to many of our people due to expensive data costs and the lack of equipment. Some members of the Saldanha Bay community, who I work with very closely, were shocked to hear about these virtual hearings. They are confused as to why it is being conducted virtually when COVID restrictions have been eased. Our people know their rights in terms of the constitution and communities want answers from Nersa. How can communities – who are already struggling – participate with only a few days to prepare? And how can they participate virtually if they do not have the means to do so? It is terribly ironic that Nersa seems willing to obstruct people’s right to participation during Human Rights Month,” says van Rooy.

The Green Connection says it is particularly confused about why Parliament has opted not to continue a probe – launched less than a year ago – into allegations about how Karpowerships were accepted and continued to be part of the Risk Mitigation IPP programme. Among other discrepancies, the deal has been tangled up in a raft of controversies, including having initially been granted an emergency environmental authorisation (which was later withdrawn after a public outcry). Subsequently, after undertaking an environmental impact assessment process, the Karpowership companies were refused environmental authorisations for all three projects. Notwithstanding this, Nersa has granted the Karpowership companies electricity generation licenses, following a public participation process where critical information was redacted from the documents made available to the public, including the terms of any Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with Eskom.

According to The Green Connection’s Strategic Lead Liziwe McDaid, “The South African people are once again being left out in the cold, with Parliament canning an investigation into the procurement, and Nersa seemingly willing to bend over backwards to quickly grant licenses to the Karpowership companies. The DMRE also seems hellbent on ensuring that these deals go through (having repeatedly extended financial closure dates that the Karpowership companies could not meet).

In a country staggering under the sheer weight of government corruption – exposed by the Zondo Commission’s State Capture reports – we believe that Parliament has a duty to the people of this country to thoroughly investigate this procurement. Twelve civil society organisations wrote to parliament asking it to investigate, however no hearing was held, and the organisations were not asked to present their evidence. Instead, the Minerals and Energy Portfolio Committee in Parliament, who were informed by civil society’s letter of various allegations of irregularities, seemed satisfied to take the word of the DMRE that nothing was wrong. The PC DMRE did not even bother to contact the CSOs who wrote to them. This is completely unacceptable.”

McDaid says, “Such blatant disregard for the views of civil society is not unusual for this committee that in the 6th Parliament, is not particularly known for its engagements with civil society organisations. We are also concerned about whether Nersa is able to independently carry out its regulatory functions given that Nersa reports to the Minister of Energy and given that both the late chairperson of Nersa and the Chairperson of the Electricity sub-committee are former DMRE employees.”

In the spirit of Human Rights Month, The Green Connection calls on Nersa to do the right thing and withdraw its current notices on the Karpowership matter and to engage in proper public participation processes.


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