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By Shapi Shacinda 

LUSAKA, Nov 26 (Reuters) – Zambia has cut by 16 percent the 540 megawatts power supplied to its copper mines after state utility Zesco rationed power following the shutdown of a major transmission line for repairs due to last one month. 

The Copperbelt Energy Company (CEC), the sole distributor of power to the mines, said it had reduced electricity supply at the request of Zesco, which expects to complete the repairs by the second week of December. 

At the same time, Zambia said it plans to upgrade transmission lines to source more power from the Democratic Republic of Congo, CEC chairman Hanson Sindowe said on Wednesday. 

His firm, which purchases power from Zesco for distribution to the mines, reduced supply despite rising power demand at the country’s two major mines, Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) and Mopani Copper Mines. 

“We have reduced by 16 percent the amount of power to the mines and that is quite a lot, especially at a time when demand is rising. We have normally been supplying the mines with 540 megawatts,” Sindowe told Reuters. 

KCM is a unit of London-listed Vedanta Resources Plc (VED.L: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) while Mopani Copper Mines is a joint venture of Swiss firm Glencore International AG [GLEN.UL] and Canada’s First Quantum Minerals (FM.TO: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz). 

Last month KCM launched a major copper smelter with annual processing capacity of 300,000 tonnes. 

An energy ministry official said that the mines have been forced to scale down operations and to switch off non-essential equipment to ease power shortages. 

“This will surely have a negative effect on copper production this year,” he said on condition of anonymity. 

Sindowe said the CEC had partnered with the Congolese state power utility Snel to upgrade an existing transmission line to carry 500 megawatts of power from Congo to the Zambian mines, more than double the 210 megawatts it usually carries. 

“The line will cover about 130 kilometres and CEC will spend $15 million to construct (the extension line) on the Zambian side, while Snel will do the same inside the Democratic Republic of Congo,” Sindowe said. 

He also said CEC and Glencore had agreed to launch a joint bid to invest in the Kafue Gorge Lower power project, estimated by the government to cost $1.5 billion and which would generate over 750 megawatts of power. 

Construction will start in January 2009, he said. 

The International Finance Corporation, the World Bank’s lending arm, has engaged contractors to conduct a feasibility study which is expected to end in mid-2009, following which the government will launch international tenders. 

(Reporting by Shapi Shacinda +260 97 784 3609/+260 95 577 9523, Editing by Peter Blackburn) 

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