Johannesburg - Construction of South Africa's 4,764 MW Medupi coal-fired power plant, meant to plug an electricity shortfall, may restart on Thursday after stopping because of protests, a spokeswoman for state-owned utility Eskom said on Wednesday.

Workers were sent home on Wednesday last week after protests at the site and disruption to transport leading to the construction area.

“We are hoping for workers to get back to work and restart construction tomorrow,” spokeswoman Hilary Joffe said.

The first of six units at Medupi, already delayed by more than a year due to problems with boiler contracts, is on a very tight schedule to start generating electricity late this year.

“We haven't changed the timelines at this point but any major disruption does pose a risk to delivery,” Joffe added.

Eskom is walking a tightrope to keep power flowing to factories, mines and smelters that had to shut for several days five years ago when the national grid nearly collapsed, costing Africa's biggest economy billions of dollars in lost output.

Electricity supplies are expected to remain tight until Medupi and another coal-fired plant, Kusile, become operational.

Heavy rains, which have disrupted imports of power from neighbouring Mozambique, pose additional challenges, Joffe said.

Eskom is currently receiving 650 MW of electricity from Mozambique, less then half of what it is contracted to get.

This has also impacted the utility's ability to do much-needed maintenance on its ageing plants, many of which are between 20 and 30 years old. - Reuters