Congo halts mining expansions in east due to power shortage

KINSHASA, March 6 Thu Mar 6, 2014 6:52am EST

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KINSHASA, March 6 (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo's prime minister has told mining companies to halt any expansion plans requiring extra power in the copper-rich Katanga province due to an "energy crisis", a document seen by Reuters showed on Thursday.

In a letter addressed to President Joseph Kabila and various government ministers, Augustin Matata Ponyo said that national power company SNEL should not grant any new energy contracts for mining companies nor allow changes to existing contracts.

"I equally consider it necessary that mining clients postpone immediately and until further notice any expansion project requiring additional energy," Ponyo wrote in a letter dated January 10.

International mining companies such as Glencore and Freeport McMoRan and have major operations in Congo's southeastern Katanga province, drawn to the region by huge copper deposits.

Miners in Katanga have complained of insufficient and unreliable energy supplies limiting production. In the letter, Ponyo says that of Katanga's demand of around 900 megawatts (MW) from the mining companies, only 461.7 MW is available.

Congo produced a record 942,000 tonnes of copper last year, a leap of 52 percent from the year before, the International Monetary Fund said. That would make it Africa's largest producer of the metal, according to commodities analysis company CRU Group.

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