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By Braden Reddall
May 16 (Reuters) - Sempra Energy has signed up Japanese and French partners to back a liquefied natural gas export plant in Louisiana that will cost up to $10 billion, with construction expected to start next year, Sempra said on Thursday.
The plant would be only the second LNG export facility in the state, with Cheniere Energy getting federal approval last April to build one at Sabine Pass, as a wider debate about exporting energy rumbles on in Washington.
The Sempra plant will have an export capacity of 12 million tons per year by 2017, and be built at the site of Sempra's Cameron LNG receipt terminal in Hackberry, Louisiana.
Under the 20-year agreements unveiled on Thursday, all the LNG will be bought under three separate 4 million-ton-per-year deals by Mitsui & Co Ltd, Mitsubishi Corp via Nippon Yusen KK and France's GDF Suez SA.
"With the experience Mitsubishi has accumulated from more than a dozen LNG projects over the last half-century, we are committed to exert all our efforts for the success of this project," Jun Nishizawa, vice president of the global gas unit of Mitsubishi, said in a statement.
San Diego, California-based Sempra will retain a 50.2 percent stake in the project, while the three partners will share the rest between them.
"We look forward to working with our partners to achieve a final investment decision and commence construction in early 2014," said Octavio Simoes, president of Sempra LNG.
Sempra filed for Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval for the plant in December, and said on Thursday the final environmental review would be issued this November, with FERC authorization expected in early 2014. Full commercial operation is expected at Cameron by 2018.
Cameron LNG obtained Department of Energy approval last year to export up to 12 million tons annually of LNG to all U.S. Free Trade Agreement countries, though authorization to export to other countries is pending a review by the department.