Transmission lines to Italy open the way -- Tunisia is well ahead of target for 2012

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Tunisia is well on the way to reaching its target of 4% of electricity from wind energy by 2012, requiring an installed capacity of around 200 MW. That is the maximum the current grid can support, says state utility, Tunisian Electricity and Gas Company (STEG), although Tunisia's estimated wind power potential is over 1000 MW. With the current rate of development, the target will be met ahead of time. STEG is to start building its second wind plant this month, a 120 MW facility on two sites at Metline and Kcbata in the northern Bizerte region, scheduled for completion in 2010.

Wind capacity in Tunisia leapt from 19.4 MW to 54 MW in 2008 with the completion of an extension to the country's sole wind plant at Sidi Daoud on the north coast. Spain's MADE Tecnologías Renovables, a subsidiary of Gamesa, built the 34.32 MW extension for STEG, using 26 of its 1.32 MW turbines. The combined output should meet 2% of the country's electricity needs.

Gamesa is again building the second wind farm on a turnkey basis using MADE technology following an international bidding process. As well as turbine supply, the deal includes building substations and high-voltage grid-connections as well as a two-year operation and maintenance contract. The Spanish government's overseas aid agency is providing a loan of almost EUR 200 million to help fund the project.

A Tunisian government initiative to encourage large users of electricity to invest in renewables generation moved a step closer recently when parliament agreed to amend the relevant law. This allows the owners of chemical works, cement factories and others to produce electricity for their own consumption and sell any surplus to STEG. While the price STEG will pay has not yet been specified, it is expected to be somewhere in the region of TND 0.08/kWh (EUR 0.045/kWh). A government energy agency is carrying out feasibility studies for projects totalling around 60 MW.

Italian connection

Looking forward, Italy's Moncada Energy Group is developing a 500 MW wind power project at El Haouaria, on the north tip of the Cape Bon peninsula, and has applied for permission to build a 600 MW, 400 kV merchant line to export output to Italy from this and various other power plant planned by Moncada. The 223-kilometre undersea line would link the transformer stations in El Haouaria, Tunisia, with Partanna in Sicily. Moncada reports the line has been judged "favourably" by Italian grid operator Terna and is "at an advanced stage of authorisation" in Italy.

At the same time, STEG and Terna recently called for expressions of interest to build another interconnection to Italy, this time a 400 kV line rated at 1000 MW to be built with public funds. The Elmed project, as it is known, also consists of a 1200 MW gas power station at El Haouaria, from which one-third of the output will be sold on the Tunisian market and two-thirds in Italy. Completion is scheduled for 2016 at a total cost of at least EUR 2 billion. The improved access to the European grid should have the knock-on benefit of allowing Tunisia to up the amount of renewable generation it can handle on its national network.

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