Big BEE battle over Karpowership billions

A group of local BEE partners for the government’s controversial Karpowership deal are accusing Turkish company Karadeniz of trying to get them kicked out of the transaction in favour of other partners, Sunday Times reports.

The empowerment partners from Powergroup SA hold a 49% stake in the deal, while Karadeniz holds the remaining 51%.

Several of Powergroup’s directors allege the company has been in discussions with prominent and acclaimed businesswoman Anna Mokgokong and accused her of trying to hijack the deal.

Mokgokong is co-founder and executive chair of Community Investment Holdings (CIH), which owns a minority stake in Community Investment Ventures Holdings (CIVH), which owns Vumatel and Dark Fibre Africa.

She was also the first female director of Shoprite.

She also sits on numerous companies’ boards — including as chair of Eskom’s second-largest coal supplier Seriti Coal.

Sources told Sunday Times that the talks with Mokgokong started because Karadeniz was frustrated that Powergroup SA had failed to come up with the $10 million (R190 million) required for the project’s working capital. Karadeniz had reportedly already put down its portion of the money.

The development has led to infighting among the Powergroup consortium — whose directors are attorney Ravin Rajoo, former banker Sureshan Moodley, former ministerial advisor George Mokoena, and energy investor and project manager Sechaba Moletsane.

In a statement over the issue, Rajoo said the group had “contributed immensely” and worked tirelessly over five years to ensure the project’s success, which would bring billions in profits for its shareholders.

He stressed that the Powergroup team were not influential billionaire black capitalists but “aspiring” black South Africans with the requisite skills to bring the project to its current status.

“Powergroup will oppose any scheme designed to take over its shareholding in the projects that will deprive it of significant financial benefits that it has jointly created, in particular to perceived influential third parties who have made no contribution to the development of the projects,” Rajoo said.

Mokgokong denied that she was trying to steal the deal but confirmed she had talks with Karadeniz.

Karadeniz also acknowledged the discussions but stated they related to the company’s potential investments in renewable energy projects in South Africa.

Karadeniz Powership deployed on the coast of Gambia.

The billions over which these parties now appear to be skirmishing might shrink to far less than previously anticipated.

Karpowership said this week it was willing to reduce the much-disputed 20-year contract term for the deal to five years.

Among the faults in the project opponents criticise is its proposed timeframe.

Powerships are typically used as an emergency short-term mechanism in times of crisis where a country has few other options.

While they can be deployed and connected much faster than building new plants with similar capacity on land, they are more expensive to run.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research previously estimated the deal could cost roughly R228 billion over 20 years.

However, this could fluctuate greatly depending on the price of the liquefied natural gas (LNG) used to power the generators on the ships.

The price of LNG has been highly volatile, mainly due to Russia’s war on Ukraine. Russia is one of the world’s biggest natural gas producers.

But according to Karpowership’s chief commercial officer Zeynep Harezi, the power ships would cost South Africa less than R15 billion a year, making them much more cost-effective than using diesel-powered open-cycle gas turbines for emergency power.

The total amount would work out to R75 billion over five years.

Screenshot from a segment of Annika Larsen’s interview with Karpowership’s Zeynep Harezi, aired on Wednesday, 9 August 2023. Credit: YouTube/eTV

After years of delays, the company’s deployment plans in South Africa recently received several boosts from the government.

Environmental affairs minister Barbara Creecy is allowing the company to seek ecological approvals for a 450MW plant in Richards Bay and a 320MW deployment in Saldanha.

The Department of Transport has already approved the mooring of all three plants — including a third at the Port of Ngqura.

The latter’s process is expected to be delayed by 12–18 months due to a dispute with Transnet, which wants to use the planned mooring site for one of Karpowership’s 450MW floating plants for a liquid bulk terminal.

Karadeniz remains confident that the Karpowership deal will be able to reach financial close by the end of the year.

The original “non-negotiable” deadline for financial close of the project was July 2021.

Now read: Eskom accused of colluding with municipality to block solar power plants

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Big BEE battle over Karpowership billions