World Bank’s IFC could fund controversial powerships in South Africa

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Photo: Getty Images
  • World Bank’s International Finance Corporation is interested in funding emergency energy providers in South Africa.
  • This could include Karpowership, the Turkish supplier of gas-fired power plants on ships. 
  • The potential involvement of the IFC comes as environmental groups pressure investors to halt investment in fossil fuels.

The World Bank's International Finance Corporation said it had expressed interest in funding bidders in a South African tender for emergency power provision, including a Turkish supplier of gas-fired power plants on ships, putting it on course for a clash with climate activists.

Karpowership, the Istanbul-based company, won the bulk of the bids in March and has until the end of July to secure funding and necessary approvals and agreements to make binding a pact to supply 1 220 megawatts of power for 20 years.

The potential involvement of the IFC comes as environmental groups pressure investors, including development finance institutions, to halt investment in fossil fuels such coal, oil and natural gas. Most other bidders in the round relied at least partially on renewable energy.

Activists and the DA unsuccessfully pressed for a parliamentary inquiry into the award of preferred bidder status to Karpowership, while a rival bidder sued to have the entire tender scrapped, alleging corruption. Karpowership has denied wrongdoing and said its bids were more competitive than others.

"The IFC is not going to help advance economic development by supporting the harmful fuels and technologies of the past," Friends of the Earth United States, an environmental group, said in a response to queries. "Supporting gas subjects countries to the risks of increasingly volatile pricing, lock-in of obsolete infrastructure and stranded assets."

Coal dependent

The lender said no decisions have been taken yet and Karpowership declined to comment.

The interest is "subject to a successful bid award and due diligence, among other factors", the IFC said in a response to questions. There "has been no formal engagement with Karpowership beyond this expression of interest", it said.

South Africa depends on coal for almost all its electricity generation and sought to procure 2 000 megawatts of emergency power because state-owned utility Eskom can't meet demand and has subjected the country to intermittent outages.

The IFC "considers financing in natural gas projects that can expand access to energy for the poor and provide reliable power for industry, displace carbon-intensive coal and oil, and enable integration of a higher share of renewables into a country’s economy", it said.

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