Mining companies feel the pinch of loadshedding

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The Minerals Council of South Africa says the ongoing loadshedding is likely to affect production in the ailing mining sector. The council says the power outages have put mines under increasing pressure to stay afloat, following months of production decline and dropping commodity prices.

Mining is the most energy-intensive industry, consuming about 30% of the country’s electricity supply.

Henk Langenhoven, is an Economist at the Minerals Council South Africa, says that loadshedding will influence production which has not been doing well.

“We are 15 mining companies. (They) are about 15% of Eskom’s client base. If you add the refiners and the smelting capacity, it’s another 15%; so it’s 30%. The problem is that it will influence production and production has not been performing that well. We are not exactly certain what would happen and it’s not easy for us to give a general view of what has happened.”

Langenhoven says over and above the losses in production, the current power cuts also pose significant threat to safety and security in mining.

“And the real issue is the safety of the staff underground. We are working with extreme high temperatures in gold mines and you have to know that you can cool them down and, or that you can get them out as quickly as possible. If we are uncertain about the schedule that is not being followed then it becomes a decision of whether you send people down. So, that uncertainty is a great issue.”

Meanwhile, trade union federation, Cosatu, has cautioned Eskom that no worker should lose their lives as a result of a communication breakdown when Stage 4 loadshedding is implemented.

Cosatu General Secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali says Eskom needs to think carefully as they’ll put the lives of people in danger.

“They have to think quite carefully. What are they going to do with the sectors that when if there’s a loadshedding, they’ll put the lives of people in danger? Stage 4 does not mean there is a total shutdown. They have to be careful in planning and say to these mines, ‘we are going to be shutting down electricity during these working hours.’ So that the safety of the people can be protected in that way.”

While mining companies are able to continue operations with reduced energy consumption at stage one to stage three load shedding, mines are unable to send any workers underground once stage four load shedding is announced.