THE construction of a US$13 million solar power plant at Blanket Gold Mine in Gwanda is expected to begin in the second half of the year.
Last year, the gold operation through its parent firm, Caledonia Mining Corporation announced that it had been issued a licence by the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (Zera) to build the proposed 18MW solar power plant.
It is hoped that the power plant, once operational, would reduce Blanket Mine’s dependence on the national grid as well as reduce the miner’s operational costs.
In an interview after a tour of the mine by Mines and Mining Development Minister Winston Chitando last week, Caledonia chief operating officer Mr Dana Roets said they have signed an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) with Voltalia to undertake the project.
“We have engaged the contractor, which is Voltalia and they will start in the second half of the year to construct the solar plant and it will take about six or seven months to complete,” he said.
“We hope to have the solar power plant up and running by the second quarter of next year. This is only Phase 1, we want to then extend it to 18MVA (Megavolt amperes), that is what we need to run the whole mine,” he said.
Voltalia is an international renewable energy solutions company formed in 2005 and is headquartered in France.
Resources for the solar project were raised from the company’s internal sources.
“We don’t know when we’re going to start the second phase (of the construction of the solar plant), but that’s on the cards in the future. We have got the money to build the plant and it’s going to cost us about US$12 million, that money is safely in the bank and we will start procuring the equipment very soon,” said Mr Roets.
One of the major hurdles mining houses have faced in their quest to boost productivity has been constrained power supply forcing the miners to resort to alternative expensive sources of power like diesel generators.
Meanwhile, Caledonia has completed the development of a US$17 million Central Shaft at Blanket, which began in 2015. The newly established Central Shaft project is set for commissioning by President Mnangagwa in the next few months.
In a separate interview after the tour, Minister Chitando said Blanket Mine was a game changer to the achievement of the US$12 billion mining economy by 2023 and the attainment of Vision 2030.
“These are the fruits of the ‘Zimbabwe is open for business mantra’,” he said.
In the first quarter, Caledonia produced 13 197oz slightly lower than the corresponding period last year. However, Caledonia has indicated that it remains on track to achieve its full year production guidance of between 61 000oz and 67 000oz. Chronicle