ALGIERS (Reuters) - Algeria's largest private company Cevital is seeking foreign investors to help it build an $8 billion solar power complex to export electricity to Europe, the company's renewable energy chief said.
International investors want to use plentiful sunlight in north Africa to power energy-hungry Europe, but while projects are moving ahead in neighbouring Morocco, Algeria's government has held back, saying it favours homegrown projects instead.
"We are working on a project of 2,000 Megawatts. This will cost an estimated $8 billion," Boukhalfa Yaici, Cevital's Renewable Energies Project Manager, told Reuters.
The electricity the project would generate is about the same as a mid-sized nuclear power station in the United States.
"What will determine the speed is the contribution of European Union (companies) to developing this energy project," he said in an interview.
"Our partners can contribute through the construction of undersea lines, for example, from Algeria to Italy and Spain. All options are on the table."
Major firms including Simens, RWE and Deutsche Bank have formed the Desertec consortium, a 400 billion euro plan to use solar power from the Sahara desert to supply 15 percent of Europe's power by 2050.
HOMEGROWN SOLAR POWER
Cevital is a member of the consortium but Algeria's government -- which is tightening rules on foreign investment -- has said it does not want foreigners exploiting its solar energy and is only interested if local firms play a central role.
Yaici said Cevital's solar project will fit in the with the government's policy of favouring Algerian firms and promoting exports outside the dominant oil and gas sector.
"It would be good to find a viable alternative solution to make possible this kind of exports. Cevital aims to be the biggest exporter of non-hydrocarbon products," Yaici said.
Family-owned Cevital has interests ranging from sugar refining, to car imports, vegetable oil and margarine, and running hypermarkets.
The Cevital executive did not say how the company's solar power project would fit in with the Desertec plan but he said his firm still backed it.
Countering allegations Desertec would exploit developing countries, he said the project would supply a large portion of North Africa's energy needs and also help develop local renewable energy industries.
"Many components can be made locally. We want to be an industrial partner for this project," he said. "The (Desertec) project is feasible and profitable for both exporters and importers. Financial problems will not arise."