By Tony Carnie 13 August 2020
Under cover of the Covid-19 crisis, government and private officials appear to be using legal loopholes to speed up a proposal by a Turkish company and local empowerment partners to sail a small armada of “floating power stations” into South African harbours. While the red flag has been raised by environmentalists and law experts, the Turkish company involved insists that all protocols were being followed and that there was nothing irregular in applying for an environmental exemption during Covid-19.
Jeremy Ridl, a Durban specialist environmental attorney and former environmental law professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, has warned that, if allowed, the abuse of this emergency clause during Covid-19 could carve open a new legal loophole for many developers to evade the need for any environmental impact assessments (EIA).
In response, the company involved has claimed that there was nothing irregular in obtaining the directive during Covid-19.
Turkish power ships are already deployed in several small, conflict-battered nations across the developing world, including Lebanon, where they supply up to 25% of that country’s electricity. Burning extremely flammable liquified natural gas or heavy shipping oil, the floating generators are hooked up to land-based power pylons and substations to feed electricity into the national grid.
Two such power ships – fortunately, moored several kilometres from central Beirut – escaped catastrophe on 4 August following the explosion of ammonium nitrate that killed more than 170 people and blasted a massive chunk of the city’s main harbour.
The mobile power station concept was developed about 10 years ago by Karpowership, an affiliate of the Istanbul-based Karadeniz Energy Group. The company owns more than 20 power ships capable of generating about 3,000MW of electricity.
After landing contracts in 13 countries such as Iraq, Cuba, Sierra Leone, Mozambique and Sudan, the Turkish sales team turned their sights on South Africa some years back and have worked more recently to bag a lucrative new contract from Eskom, via the Department of Minerals and Energy Resources (DMER).