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PARIS, April 16 (Reuters) - French gas and power utility GDF Suez expects strong demand for power in the Middle East will allow it to sell thousands of megawatts worth of new gas-fired power stations in the region, a company executive was quoted as saying on Tuesday.
Dirk Beeuwsaert, head of GDF Suez's international energy business, told French daily Les Echos he expects the Middle East will need about 6,000 megawatts (MW) of new capacity per year for the next five to 10 years, due to the region's fast growth and the massive use of air-conditioning.
"Considering our strong position in the region, we expect to capture up to 40 percent of that growth," Beeuwsaert said.
Saudi Arabia alone is expected to need 3,000 MW of new capacity per year. One thousand megawatts roughly corresponds to the output of one large nuclear plant.
Most of the expected tenders will concern gas-fired power stations that also desalinate sea water, like the 2,500 MW Al-Khiran project in Kuwait for which a consortium will be put together in coming months, Beeuwsaert said.
The company is also banking on renewable energy, as Gulf states have large ambitions in that area.
GDF Suez said in a statement it had started commercial operation of three gas-fired power plants - two in Oman and one in Saudi Arabia - with a total capacity of 3,217 MW. Total capital investment for the three projects amounts to $3.8 billion, more than 70 percent funded with debt.
The French power giant said it is the leading independent power generator in the region, with interests in 25,000 MW of operating capacity in the Gulf Cooperation Council, which groups Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
As it expands in emerging markets, GDF Suez is shuttering thousands of megawatts of capacity in Europe, where cheap coal imported from the United States is making gas plants uneconomical.
The firm mothballed 7,300 MW of electricity generating capacity during 2009-2013 and is set to take another 1,300 gigawatts offline this year. (Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Mark Potter)