Zambia's Copperbelt Energy Corp. (CEC), which supplies power to the country's copper and cobalt mines, has cut back supply following disruptions in electricity imports, a senior CEC official said on Wednesday.

We have been required to cut back our normal supply of 530 megawatts by about 15 percent, and the mines are having to operate at a lower load. This will affect production, Neil Croucher, managing director of CEC, told Reuters.

Konkola Copper Mines, a unit of London-listed Vedanta Resources (VED.L), and Mopani Copper Mines, a joint venture of Swiss firm Glencore International [GLEN.UL] and Canada's First Quantum Minerals, are among the major foreign miners in Zambia.

Zambia, like other countries in southern Africa, has been hit by a power shortage and has been rationing electricity supply to the mining industry -- the country's economic lifeblood -- since January.

State utility Zesco Ltd said last week it would deepen power rationing to domestic consumers while supplies to mines would be allowed to continue, following a technical fault that has disrupted electricity imports from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Monica Chisela, the senior public relations manager at Zesco, told Reuters last Friday Zambia had been unable to secure power imports from the DRC for more than a week following a technical glitch.

Zesco also shut down one 180-megawatt power generator at the hydro-electric Kariba North Bank power station for about a week for routine maintenance, and that would lead to more rationing of power.

Croucher said because of the reduced supply of power to the mines, many of the companies are using the period for maintenance until normal supply was restored.

This has been going on since last week and Zesco indicated that this could go on up to Friday, Croucher said.

The World Bank's International Finance Corp (IFC) recently started feasibility studies for the development of Africa's largest private hydro-power plant in Zambia and CEC said it would bid for the development of the $1 billion project.

Official data shows that Zesco generates 1,190 megawatts, short of the peak national demand of 1,400 megawatts.

The state firm expects to increase generation by 660 MW by early 2009 from a rehabilitation project, which would bring 450 MW and an extra 210 MW from upgraded machines.

(Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

© Thomson Reuters 2008. All rights reserved.