French energy firm Voltalia wins contract to build Blanket Mine solar plant

French renewable energy firm Voltalia has won the contract to build a 12MW solar power plant at Blanket Mine in Gwanda.

Caledonia, Blanket Mine’s holding company, last month raised US$13-million from a share sale to fund the project, expected to supply 27% of the mine’s total electricity demand. Commissioning of the 12MW solar plant is expected in the last quarter of 2021.

Voltalia is listed on the Euronext Paris stock exchange. In Africa, the company is already active in Tanzania, Egypt, Morocco, Ivory Coast, Burundi, Malawi and South Africa.

The two companies have agreed an initial design phase for the project, after which, subject to the conclusion of an engineering, procurement and construction contract, procurement and construction are expected to begin.

“Caledonia looks forward to working closely with Voltalia to deliver a successful project at the Blanket Mine which, on completion, is expected to provide approximately 27% of the mine’s total electricity demand,” Caledonia says in a statement.

“This will significantly reduce the risk to the mine of any further deterioration in the quality of grid power which would necessitate increased use of diesel generators (which are substantially more expensive than grid power).”

In September, Caledonia announced that it had raised the money for the plant by way of an at-the-market sales process on the New York Stock Exchange, conducted by Cantor Fitzgerald & Co.  The company issued nearly 600 000 shares, fewer issued shares than the 800 000 that it had initially expected to list.

Power struggle

In a survey of miners last year, most executives listed power shortages as the single biggest threat to growth.

Blanket Mine is one of a growing list of miners in Zimbabwe investing in alternative energy to support their operations in response to erratic power supply from the power utility ZESA.

RioZim, the country’s largest gold producer, has been licensed to install solar power with an initial combined capacity of 75MW at its four mines.

Prospect Resources, developing the Arcadia lithium mine at Goromonzi, has signed an MoU with African Continental Minerals (ACM). This proposes the supply of 20MW of power to Arcadia.

Implats has announced plans to install 200MW of solar capacity to supply the 80MW used at Zimplats, 30MW at Mimosa and feed power into the national grid.

Karo Resources, which plans to develop a new platinum mine in Mhondoro-Ngezi, hopes to install a 300MW solar power plant.