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DAKAR, April 12 (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo hopes to import electricity from South Africa, an expensive measure aimed at reducing a gaping power deficit that has dented mining output in the continent's top copper producer, the chamber of commerce said on Wednesday.
Congo is plagued by massive energy shortfalls and scarce rainfall could cause a near 50 percent drop in output in the country's main hydroelectric plants during the May-September dry season.
Delegates from Congo's public power utility and chamber of commerce will negotiate imports from South African power utility Eskom on Thursday and Friday, said Eric Monga, the president of Congo's chamber of commerce in the southeastern mining region.
The export would involve transporting power hundreds of miles through grids in Zimbabwe and Zambia, raising costs.
"It's clearly more expensive...but the economic interest is so great that we are obliged to go hear them out," Monga told Reuters.
Congo's copper-mining Katanga region receives only about half the power it needs from the national grid, forcing operators to rely on expensive generators or imports, usually from neighbouring Zambia. Congo does not currently import electricity from South Africa.
Monga said each mining company would be free to eventually negotiate with Eskom for the power it requires. Major operators in Congo include Glencore, Ivanhoe Mines and Randgold.
Congo is meant to construct a new 4,800 MW, $14 billion dam on the Congo River by 2020 - with 2,500 MW earmarked for South Africa - but progress has stalled with the government yet to select a developer. (Reporting By Aaron Ross; editing by Edward McAllister and Louise Heavens)