Mining firm signs power deal for solar farm in South Africa

6 October 2022

Rio Tinto’s South African mining company, Richard’s Bay Minerals (RBM), will receive renewable energy through an agreement with power company Voltalia – which will ensure black-owned business benefit from the contract.

Construction of the 148 megawatt Bolobedu Solar PV project is due to start in 2023, at a site in the province of Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, and is due to finish by 2024.

The site will have the capacity to generate up to 300 gigawatt hours of renewable energy a year and will feed into the national power grid to supply RBM’s smelting and processing facilities.

Voltalia has said it has agreed to ensure local Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) partners benefit from the agreement, which is due to cut RBM’s annual greenhouse gas emissions by at least 10% per year.

Voltalia CEO Sébastien Clerc said: “We are very pleased to support RBM in its decarbonisation journey.

“The Bolobedu photovoltaic power plant will be our biggest project in Africa, after performing construction of a series of other solar plants for us or for clients, on the continent (Zimbabwe, Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya, Mauritania and Egypt).

“This project is the first of our South African large solar-and-wind portfolio under development, in areas with grid connection available, that will be ready to support our clients to overpass the actual energy crisis with affordable, clean and stable electricity.”

Voltalia said the plant will provide jobs for more than 700 people during construction and around 50 people once the plant becomes operational. The firm added that it aims to source its goods and services locally.

The Bolobedu Solar PV power plant will be 51% black-owned through BEE partners, with a minimum 10% stake going to black women.

RBM principally produces 85% pure titanium dioxide slag as well as pig iron and zircon.

Meanwhile, the South African government is to put an $8.5bn plan to transition away from the use of coal towards renewable energy sources before cabinet.

Vincent Magwenya, a spokesman for president Cyril Ramaphosa, said a second draft of the investment plan was being shared with “key stakeholders” before it was submitted to cabinet.

South Africa aims to seek funds from the UK, US, Germany, France and the European Union to move towards renewables and phase out coal – as announced at the COP26 international climate summit in Glasgow last year.

Magwenya said the government hoped to have sources of funding lined up by the time of the COP27 summit in November.

Currently South Africa depends on coal for more than 80% of its electricity, but its plan to phase out coal has been hailed as a model for other coal-dependent developing countries seeking to transition to cleaner energy.

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