Nelson Mandela Bay SME group backs Karpowership, plans march to Transnet

The Local Business Committee (LBC) – a group claiming to have the support of more than 5 000 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality – has thrown its weight behind Karpowership’s plan for a gas-to-electricity ‘power ship’ to be moored in the Eastern Cape industrial port of Coega.

Despite opposition from several quarters to Karpowership’s broader plans to have three such ships at the ports of Coega, Richards Bay and Saldanha Bay, the LBC on Friday said it backs the plan and will be marching to Transnet’s offices in Coega this week to highlight its support.

During a media briefing, the LBC’s leadership said concerns raised by environmentalists and fishing communities about the anticipated impact of Karpowership on the coastal ecosystem is “merely a propaganda campaign”.

Read: Fishing communities fear their livelihoods are threatened by Karpowership plan

LBC secretary general Masixole Mashelele said: “They [fishing communities] are not at Coega anyways, [as] Coega is an industrial development zone. So they’ve got nothing to do with fishing at Coega. We see this as propaganda or a narrative that is trying to block the black-owned company [being established].”

The business committee told Moneyweb it has not received complaints from local fishermen in Coega about Karpowership’s plans, but that it remains open to engaging them should they feel the need to.

March to Transnet

The LBC, which interestingly exists under the guidance of the office of the provincial Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Agriculture, said it will mobilise its constituents and march to the Transnet National Ports Authority in Coega on Wednesday to call for the fast-tracking of the Karpowership project.

“We are going there to hand over our memorandum of understanding, to say let the Karpowership project start and solve the issue of poverty and unemployment in the region,” Mashelele said.

He could not clarify the business committee’s strategy behind the planned march on Wednesday but said Transnet is one of many destinations the committee will be targeting to make its position known.

The National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) in September granted Karpowership – a subsidiary of the Turkish Karadeniz Energy Group – three licences to generate power on floating gas-to-electricity ships at the country’s three industrial ports.

However, since the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) named the company as one of the preferred bidders in the department’s Risk Mitigation Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (RMI4P) in March, Karpowership has met with resistance from environmentalists, fishing communities and civil rights organisations.

Bids for the RMI4P were initially meant to reach financial close in August 2020, but the DMRE has kept revising the deadline, with the most recent cut-off date being January next year.

Issues further delaying Karpowership’s operations in the province include the fact that the company has not received environmental authorisation from the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment.

Read: SA extends financial close for emergency power bids

In addition, the company does not have port authorisation from Transnet and it does not have a power purchase agreement between itself and Eskom.

Karpowership expected to benefit small businesses

Despite having not met with Karpowership to discuss exactly how local businesses will benefit from its presence, the LBC expects that Karpowership’s presence in the Nelson Mandela metro will help turn it around and bring good fortune to local businesses that will be part of the Karpowership supply chain.

“We will have EMEs [emerging micro enterprises] that are supplying them [Karpowership] as caterers, EMEs that are supplying uniforms, cleaning services, we’ll have security guards,” said Mashelele.

“There are a lot of opportunities it will bring.”