By Bernard Mpofu
Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed mining concern RioZim Limited (RioZim), is considering powering its operations off the country’s main grid as the company turns to alternative sources of energy to avoid energy constraints that have interrupted production for many years now.
Erratic power supplies that forced the extractive industry to import electricity directly from the country’s neighbours, such as South Africa and Mozambique, had hampered RioZim’s operations and forced it to invest in expensive diesel generators and solar plants to augment electricity.
Mining is now the backbone of the national economy, generating more than 50% of foreign exchange earnings.
Demand for energy has increased after the country’s President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, relaxed COVID-19 restrictions, allowing the mining and manufacturing sectors to resume operations.
Now, RioZim has an ambitious renewable energy installation plan, which will eventually see it become self-reliant, company chairperson Saleem Beebeejuan, said in the company’s full-year results for the period to December 2019.
He said power supply deficit remained a key risk factor across the group’s operations in spite of the slight improvement in the power supply in the first half of 2020. ‘’To mitigate the risk, the company has invested in generators that will be commissioned at Dalny and Renco mines’’, Beebeejuan said, adding these generators were expected to fully complement power from the national power utility, Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA), by the second quarter of 2020.
“In the long- term, through its solar power projects, the group is expected to be fully independent of the power utility,” he said.
This comes after RioZim’s group gold production performance declined by 7% to 1,658 kg against the previous year’s production of 1, 792 kg largely as a result of incessant power cuts of up to 18 hours per day, which hampered production at all the group’s mines from the second quarter of 2019.
The company’s Murowa Diamonds, also recorded a 7% regression in production to 685, 000 carats of diamonds from 740, 244 carats produced in the comparative period in 2018.
“The low production was attributed to intermittent power supply which resulted in lost production time,” Beebeejuan said.
In addition to the power cuts, the group also suffered from breakdowns on the mills section at its Cam and Motor plant, resulting in revenue for the year being subdued at US$23 million.
RioZim’s Renco Mine in Masvingo produced 556kg of gold in 2019, which is 6% lower than the comparative period production of 591kg, mainly as a result of inconsistent power supply to the mine which significantly reduced plant running time and throughput.
Dalny Mine, RioZim said, experienced the worst power cuts lasting up to 18 hours per day from the second quarter of 2019. As a result, production at Dalny regressed by 18% to 364kg from 442kg recorded in the same period in 2018.
The mine carried out vigorous exploration within the Dalny Mining complex and successfully opened new mining pits with higher grades, which lessened the effect of low throughput due to power cuts.
Cam and Motor Mine production fell 3% to 738kg due to persistent mill breakdowns during the year which forced the mine to carry out major overhaul repairs including reworking the foundations of the mills in the second half of the year.
RioZim re-embarked on a$17m capital project to construct a BIOX plant at Cam and Motor Mine during the last quarter of 2019, which had been earlier stalled due to lack of funds. The use of the BIOX technology is expected to increase production by at least 50%. Civil works for the project have progressed to 30% as at reporting date.