* Morocco will invite bids for solar plant in February
* The plant is part of $9 billion solar project
* Morocco wants to play a leading role in European scheme
(Adds more details, background)
JORF LASFAR, Morocco, Jan 6 Morocco will invite
bids for construction of its first solar power station at the
end of next month as part of a $9 billion solar energy project,
its energy minister said on Wednesday.
The 500-megawatt plant will be in the southern town of
Ouarzazate, the site where Morocco's ruler, King Mohammed,
announced the launch of the nationwide solar project last year.
"We are advancing smoothly in our plan to implement this
grand project. We will tender for the Ourzazate station at the
end of February," Energy Minister Amina Benkhadra told Reuters
at the inauguration of a gas storage facility at the port of
Jorf Lasfar, outside Casablanca.
Morocco's solar plan involves building five stations which
will account for 38 percent of its installed power generation
by 2020, Rabat government officials.
"We will start first with the tender for Ourzazate power
station and the tenders for the others will follow
successively," Benkhadra added. But she gave no more details.
Morocco, which is the only North African state with no oil
of its own, wants to play a leading role in an European plan to
draw solar power from the Sahara.
The European solar scheme, which is worth up to 400 billion
euros ($564 billion), could allow Europe to source 15 percent
of its power from mirrors that gather sunlight in the vast
southern desert by 2050.
The mirrors would concentrate the sun's rays to boil water
and power turbines, generating electricity without emitting the
greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.
Morocco is the poorest of the European Union's southern
neighbours but one of its closest allies in the region. It has
a history of political stability and reforms to improve its
business environment have led to steady rises of foreign
investment flow in the past 10 years.
Benkhadra said Morocco is open for cooperation with various
foreign governments and firms.
"We had received expressions of interest from several
foreign states and from big foreign companies which want to
take part in our solar project," she added.
Asked whether Morocco is looking for firms from its main
trade partners in Europe, Benkhadra said:
"Morocco is open for all forms of partnership as long as
the foreign firms have the capabilities to bring expertise,
technology and know-how. We are looking for public-private
partnerships as well as national-and-foreign partnerships."
(Reporting by Lamine Ghanmi, editing by Marguerita Choy)