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(Adds energy minister quotes)
By Chris Mfula
LUSAKA, Aug 5 (Reuters) - Mining companies operating in Zambia's copper belt have agreed to reduce power usage by between 10 and 15 percent to ease pressure on the national grid, the chamber of mines said on Wednesday.
Zambian power utility Zesco Ltd is limiting the power it supplies to customers, including Copperbelt Energy Corp (CEC) which supplies mining companies, after water levels at its hydro-electric plants dropped due to drought.
Zambia Chamber of Mines president Jackson Sikamo said companies were limiting their power use by switching off non-essential loads and using electricity more efficiently.
"We reached an agreement yesterday with the Copperbelt Energy Corporation and the government to put in place measures that will cut back consumption of power," Sikamo told Reuters.
First Quantum has said it will lay off about 1,480 workers at one of its Zambian copper projects after the reduction in power supply curbed production. The firm shut its Sentinel copper processing plant after electricity supplies to its operations were reduced by 24 percent.
Energy minister Christopher Yaluma said he had directed Zesco to restore full power immediately to mines owned by First Quantum Minerals, which dealt directly with the power firm.
"I actually directed Zesco to immediately restore full power supply to Kansanshi and Sentinel mines but I have been informed that supply has not normalised," Yaluma told Reuters.
"I am sure that normal power supply will be restored tomorrow after they agree on how much the mines can cut back on usage on their own like CEC did with Copperbelt-based mines."
Another affected operation is Barrick Gold Corp's Lumwana open pit mine.
Zambia's power generation capacity stands at 2,200 megawatts (MW), with the bulk of the electricity produced from hydropower, but supply is often erratic. Zambia's output fell to 1,900 MW in March due to low water levels in dams. (Editing by Mark Potter and David Evans)