Gold Fields moves step closer to curbing reliance on Eskom
SA’s energy regulator on Thursday approved a power generation licence for a large solar plant at Gold Fields’ South Deep mine, a long-awaited breakthrough for miners desperate to curb their reliance on ailing power utility Eskom.
Mining firms said red tape has prevented them from generating their own power for years and they have lobbied the government for rule changes.
Africa’s most industrialised nation regularly experiences power outages that hold back economic growth and eat into corporate profits.
Since coming to power in February 2018, President Cyril Ramaphosa has promised to support “self-generation” as part of measures to reform the electricity supply industry and fix state-owned Eskom, but critics have accused him of moving too slowly.
The National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa) said all the power generated by the solar plant would be consumed by the South Deep mine.
Gold Fields chief executive Nick Holland said the licence approval sent a “positive message to mining companies and their investors, potentially leading to decisions being taken to sustain and grow mining operations in the country, especially in deep-level, underground, marginal mines”.
The miner submitted its first application for a licence for a solar plant at South Deep in 2017, but Nersa said it was not compliant with regulations at the time.
Gold Fields submitted a compliant application in June 2020 after the government eased rules for self-generation projects, Nersa said.
Nersa’s acting chief executive still has to authorise the licence, which Gold Fields hopes should happen within two weeks. The company said the solar plant has the potential to provide around 20% of South Deep’s average electricity consumption.
Energy consultant Chris Yelland said the plant would be the first of its kind in a mining environment. It would supplement the mine’s power needs rather than acting as a standby during outages and its approval was “an important step” towards reforming the electricity supply industry, he said.
Yelland estimated large power users could bring online as much as 5,000MW of their own generating capacity over two years with the right regulations in place.