ZIMBABWE – Caledonia Mining Corporation PLC has confirmed plans to invest in alternative sources of power, as the company seeks to reduce interruptions to production at its Blanket Mine in Gwanda.

The gold producer has not been spared from power supply challenges facing the country, hence proposals for the company to build a solar plant.

Caledonia said power supply to the Blanket gold mine has “improved substantially” in late August and September, with a new pricing schedule for miners helping.

Zimbabwe is experiencing increased power shortfalls due to low water levels at Kariba Power Station, generation constraints at Hwange Power Station due to ageing equipment and limited imports.

Caledonia CEO, Steve Curtis, says: “Caledonia is at an advanced stage in the evaluation of a Solar PV plant, which could supply Blanket’s baseload demand during peak sunlight hours.”

The solar plant is expected to further reduce dependence on the electricity grid, reduce operating costs and ensure a more environmentally sustainable electricity supply.

“Engagements are commencing with potential equipment suppliers and regulatory authorities and the engineering and financial evaluation work on this project is well advanced,” said Mr Curtis.

“Advanced engineering work is underway and Caledonia is in the process of applying for the relevant regulatory approvals and will shortly embark on a tender process from interested parties to build and operate the project”,

Caledonia expects to fund the project itself but the tender process will also invite proposals from potential funders who may be able to offer a more cost effective funding structure.

At least US$1 million is needed for every MW that is put in according to Mr Curtis.

He acknowledged the encouragement coming from the Zimbabwean authorities where related imports are zero rated for import duty on the “solar panel.”

In the future, Caledonia anticipates that Blanket will have a blended electricity supply from grid, solar and back-up diesel generators, which will deliver greater levels of operational reliability, lower operating costs and improved environmental sustainability.

Currently Blanket has a back-up generator capacity of approximately 12.5 megawatts (MW), sufficient to run the entire mine at full capacity but insufficient to sustain both the mine and the Central Shaft project.