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RESOURCES firm, Caledonia Mining Corporation says it will commission its 12 megawatt (MW) solar power plant at Blanket Mine in Gwanda early next year.

About US$14 million has been budgeted for the project, which will exclusively supply electricity to the gold mining operation.

Caledonia has been pursuing the project since 2019.

The plan is to help Blanket Mine address crippling power shortages that frequently disrupt production.

Several mines have also complained about the blackouts, with some resorting to direct power imports.

“Blanket will continue to rely on the grid and generators to provide additional power during daylight hours and at night. The solar plant is expected to be operational in early 2022,” Caledonia said in its 2020 environmental, social and governance report released yesterday.

“Battery power is currently too expensive to justify its use to augment the solar plant, but the company will continue to monitor this situation as battery technology develops. The company will also evaluate a further phase for the solar project to provide Blanket’s peak demand during daylight hours, but this will require an agreement between the company and the Zimbabwe authorities regarding the treatment of power that will be generated by a second phase that is surplus to Blanket’s requirements,” it said.

Caledonia has contracted Voltalia, an international renewable energy specialist, to construct the facility.

Construction is expected to cost approximately US$12 million, with an additional US$2 million for expenses which include designs, tender process, obtaining licences and site clearance.

The plant is expected to provide all of Blanket’s minimum electricity demands during daylight hours and approximately 27% of its total electricity requirement thereafter.

“Climate change is one of the biggest global challenges we face. 19% of our on-mine costs relate to energy usage and, therefore, any reductions in the cost have both environmental benefits as well as clear financial advantages,” Caledonia said.

Power shortages have been a serious problem in Zimbabwe, whose installed electricity generating capacity is approximately 2 210MW.

About half of this comes from the Kariba South Hydro Power Station and the balance is obtained from several coal-fired power stations, the largest of which is Hwange, with installed capacity of 920MW.

In recent years, Zimbabwe’s generating capacity has been lower than the installed capacity due to low water levels at Kariba.

Power imports from South Africa and Mozambique covered for the shortfall.

“Load-shedding and outages arising from unstable supply have economic and safety implications for an underground mine such as Blanket and we have, therefore, installed 18MVA of standby diesel generators to enable uninterrupted mining and processing operations, as well as work for capital projects to continue during any disruptions to the grid supply,” Blanket Mine said.

“However, we recognise that this is not a long-term solution: diesel-generated electricity is expensive and subject to an unpredictable supply of diesel, as well as being environmentally unsustainable,” it added.


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