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UPDATE 1-South Africa utility Eskom says expects no power cuts for rest of 2016

(Adds CEO quotes, details)

CAPE TOWN, March 10 (Reuters) - South Africa should not expect any power cuts for the rest of the year, the chief executive of power utility Eskom said on Thursday, as Africa’s most industrialised country races to expand power supply.

State-owned Eskom is scrambling to repair its ageing power plants and grid as well as add new plants. Early last year, the utility was forced to impose almost daily power cuts, or “load shedding”, that hurt economic growth.

“We don’t foresee load-shedding for the year unless something goes terribly wrong, but it is still conceivable because we are not out of the woods yet,” Eskom’s CEO Brian Molefe told reporters.

Eskom said on Wednesday it would increase its capital expenditure by 44 percent to 324 billion rand ($21 billion) over the next five years to build new power stations.

The firm on Sunday added 333 megawatts (MW) to the power grid from the 25 billion rand ($2 billion) Ingula hydro plant, which is still under construction, the Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown said at the same event.

The plant is expected to produce 1,332 MW when it is expected to be fully operational by January 2017, she said.

Eskom would also consider building a new coal-fired power plant, dubbed “Coal 3”, although it would be around half as large as the new 4,764 megawatt Medupi plant under construction, said Matshela Koko, group executive for generation at Eskom.

“I have strong views that Coal 3 should be a public-private partnership,” said Brown.

South Africa was looking at the private sector to buy equity stakes in state-owned companies, such as the struggling national airline, as part of a broader effort to reduce the financial burden on the state amid low economic growth.

South Africa’s Treasury expects GDP growth in 2016 to be 0.9 percent, compared with an estimated 1.5 percent last year, after expansion was partly dented by the widespread power cuts.

$1 = 15.1992 rand Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by James Macharia

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