By Oliver Kazunga
Gwanda-based gold operation, Blanket Mine, plans to install a solar power plant to further reduce dependence on the national grid as well as reduce operational costs.
Aim-listed mining group, Caledonia Mining Corporation, which has a 49 percent controlling stake in Blanket Mine said advanced engineering work was underway and the application for relevant regulatory approvals was in progress after which a tender process from interested parties to build and operate the project will be embarked on.
“Caledonia is in the advanced stages of evaluating a project to install solar photovoltaic generating capacity at Blanket to further reduce dependence on the electricity grid, reduce operating costs and ensure a more environmentally sustainable electricity supply,” it said in a statement.
The mining group expects to fund the project but the tender process would invite proposals from potential funders who may be able to offer a more cost-effective funding structure. In the future, the mining group anticipates that Blanket will have blended electricity supply from grid, solar and back-up diesel generators, which would deliver greater levels of operational reliability, lower operating costs and improved environmental sustainability.
Between July and early August, Blanket experienced electricity supply disruptions and the mine had to rely heavily on its installed diesel generator back-up capacity.
“Prior to this time, Blanket had installed back-up generator capacity of approximately 12,5MW, sufficient to run the entire mine at full capacity but insufficient to sustain both the mine and the Central Shaft project.
“In response to the increased risk of electricity supply outages, Blanket has purchased an additional 6MW of diesel generator capacity.
“The additional generators are on site and are currently being installed and are expected to be operational within the month of October after which Blanket’s operations will be fully insulated from the risk of unstable electricity supply.”
Caledonia said the electricity supply situation at Blanket improved substantially in late August and last month largely due to a timely and co-ordinated response from the Chamber of Mines and Government through Zera, which introduced a new electricity pricing schedule for the mining industry to support the funding of imported electricity. Imported power is exclusively used to supply participating mining companies.
“Electricity is now priced in US dollars at a cost slightly lower than the pricing structure prior to the recent monetary devaluation.
“The electricity supply authorities have also implemented an uninterrupted power supply agreement for the mining industry in an effort to support the sector and electricity supply has stabilised following these changes,” said the mining group.
Despite the electricity supply and pricing situation in Zimbabwe, Caledonia said Blanket continues to operate normally adding that the pricing of power in US dollar terms is stable and not affected by the increases recently announced.
Commenting on the electricity situation, Caledonia chief executive officer Mr Steve Curtis said disruptions experienced early in the third quarter necessitated a larger than normal utilisation of diesel generator back-up.
“We have been pleased by the rapid and decisive response from both Government and industry, which has resulted in the alleviation of the supply shortages and a more stable US dollar-based pricing structure,” he said.
“The arrival of an additional 6MW of back-up diesel generators on site is also a positive development for our business and will ensure future reliability in the face of a potentially difficult electricity supply situation.”
Last July, Caledonia announced the completion of an estimated US$44 million shaft sinking programme at the new Central Shaft at Blanket Mine.
The shaft sinking exercise started in 2015 and the project will be commissioned in the third quarter next year. The Chronicle