( Bloomberg ) - AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. and Gold Fields Ltd., Africa's biggest gold producers, kept their South African mines closed for a second day as an electricity shortage threatened growth in the continent's biggest economy.
Mining companies stopped thousands of workers going down shafts, some of which are more than two miles (3.2 kilometers) deep, after state utility Eskom Holdings Ltd. said it couldn't guarantee a stable electric supply. Anglo Platinum Ltd. and Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd., the world's biggest platinum producers, also kept most mines shut today.
``We're still in the same situation, there are no underground mining operations, and we only continue with essential underground pumping and critical process work,'' Anglo Platinum spokesman Trevor Raymond said from Johannesburg today. Spokespeople at Gold Fields, AngloGold, Harmony Gold Mining Co. and Impala made similar comments.
Gold and platinum rose to records in London trading yesterday on concern that shortages may result from the mine closures. Eskom, which supplies 95 percent of South Africa's power, mostly by burning coal, can't meet demand after the government delayed an expansion decision by four years. South Africa produces almost 80 percent of the world's platinum and more than a tenth of its gold.
Eskom asked 138 industrial customers on Jan. 24 to cut use after heavy rain damaged coal stocks, cutting generation that threatened to destabilize the entire grid, said Andrew Etzinger, a spokesman from Johannesburg-based Eskom.
Demand for power today is running at 25,800 megawatts compared with typical weekend consumption of 30,000 megawatts, Etzinger said.
Eskom's generation currently matches demand. On a weekday when all mines and other industrial plants are running the country can use about 36,000 megawatts. Eskom has the ability to supply about 39,200 megawatts of electricity if all its plants are operating at full capacity.
No power was being cut today to homes or shopping centers through rotating power outages, Etzinger said. Eskom, however, can't guarantee uninterrupted power supply to industrial users for at least two weeks and possibly as many as four.
``Even if the weather improves, the coal will have to dry out and the equipment must be cleaned as some of the coal dust has turned to mud,'' Etzinger said.
Currently 3,500 megawatts of capacity is undergoing maintenance and more than 4,000 megawatts is unavailable due to wet or low-quality coal, Etzinger said. The balance is unavailable because of faults at coal-fired plants.
Improvement in the fault rate isn't expected for ``years,'' he said.
Eskom is filling dams, so-called pump storage plants, that it will use to temporarily generate about 2,000 megawatts from Jan. 28, when demand rises at the start of the working week. At these plants water is allowed to flow downhill through turbines to generate power and is then pumped back uphill.
Eskom is also in talks with coal companies to get them to cut the ash content in the coal they deliver. A high ash content reduces the energy generated when the coal is burnt. This won't be solved ``overnight,'' he said.
Talks also have started with coal suppliers about diverting some high-quality coal destined for exports to Eskom plants for blending with the coal normally used. Export-quality coal is more expensive than the coal Eskom typically uses.
``The issue is price,'' Etzinger said, adding that the plants can't convert to use solely export-quality coal because they aren't designed to burn coal of that quality. Anglo American Plc, BHP Billiton Plc and Xstrata Plc are South Africa's biggest coal exporters.
Through a long-term contract Eskom is currently importing 1,200 megawatts from Mozambique's Cahora Bassa hydropower station and that may rise to 1,450 megawatts by the end of the month when transmission line maintenance is complete.
A further 100 megawatts of power is being imported from the Democratic Republic of Congo and this can't be increased because of the size of the transmission lines and the power losses over the distance between the two countries, Etzinger said. Other countries in the region don't have power for export and some depend on Eskom.
Executives from mining companies, labor union officials, Eskom and the Department of Minerals and Energy held an emergency meeting in Pretoria today, where they set up a ``task team charged with the responsibility of looking at ways to rebuild in a stable way the supply of power to the industry,'' according to an e-mailed from the Department of Minerals and Energy.
The first meeting of the team will take place tomorrow. Mining companies agreed to a government request to continue looking at ways to reducing usage, while the government backed an industry appeal for ``sufficient power supply to enable employees to continue with essential underground operations'' in a safe manner, the department said.
``By tomorrow night we'll have a view on the extent of mining that will be carried out'' on Monday, Jan. 28, Anglo Platinum's Raymond said.
Electricity disruptions could affect cooling systems needed to supply air and keep underground temperatures within levels of ``human tolerance,'' the Chamber said yesterday. Power is needed to operate hoisting equipment, and mines cannot risk trapping miners underground.
The power cuts may shave South African growth by half a percentage point this year, Goolam Ballim, chief economist of Standard Bank Group Ltd., Africa's biggest lender, said yesterday. They may also deter foreign investment in a country with a 25.5 percent jobless rate.
Gold for immediate delivery yesterday gained as much as $10.89, or 1.2 percent, to a $923.73 an ounce. Platinum jumped as much as 5.6 percent to $1,701 an ounce.
AngloGold, Africa's biggest gold producer, yesterday dropped 3.5 percent to 302.99 rand in Johannesburg. Gold Fields fell 8.5 percent to 107.88 rand, its biggest one-day decline in one-and-a- half years. Harmony slid 7.3 percent to 76 rand.