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New solar electricity project back on agenda in Tunisia

After several years suspended as a result of political unrest, there is renewed hope for British project to construct a giant solar power plant in the Tunisian desert which would supply Europe with electricity.

This huge project was developed by British company TuNur and would have a production capacity of 4.5 gigawatts. When complete it would supply Malta, Italy and France with electricity using submarine cables. The project will become the largest energy export project since the – since abandond – DESERTEC Industrial project.

Last month, sources at the Tunisian Ministry of Energy, Mines and Renewable Energy said that the ministry had received an official request from the British renewable energy company, TuNur, to establish a solar power plant in the desert of Rjim Maatouq in Kebili Governorate in the South of the country, which is expected to be the largest solar power plant ever.

Tunisia had approved the project in 2012, but it was suspended due to political unrest.

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"If European governments take the Paris Convention seriously, and if they want to achieve their goal – not allowing global temperature to rise by two degrees Celsius because of the global warming problem – we need to start importing renewable energy," said Kevin Sarra, chief executive of TuNur project.

He added: "60% of Europe's primary energy is currently imported from Russia or the Middle East," according to The Guardian, September 6, 2017.

The EU is already considering giving priority to a submarine energy cable which would link Tunisia and Italy. The TuNur project expects that the solar power plant's construction works that are estimated by 5 billion euros (6 billion dollars) would start by 2019 in southwest Tunisia.

Kevin Sarra said: "We aim to transfer energy to the European electricity grid through Malta by 2021." He added that the two cables that would provide energy to Italy are expected to be installed in the following year. In addition, another energy cable to France is to be installed and would be operational by 2024.

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The project's solar energy plant will extend over an area that is three times as large as the American city of Manhattan. The energy emitted by the desert sun will be used through several energy towers of up to 200 meters each.

That would reflect the sun's rays on hundreds of thousands of equivalent mirrors, which would heat molten salt, which in its turn would heat the water and generate enough vapor to run the turbines that could provide electricity to two million houses in Europe.

The project is expected to provide up to 20,000 jobs. However, the head of the Tunisian Economic Observatory, Shafiq Ben Rouen, asked whether this huge project's output would be commensurate with what was being promoted.

He said: "Our biggest concern is TuNur project's credibility. It is mentioned in their website that they have an experience of only two small solar energy projects. We have serious concerns about their ability to implement this project and their financial ability to raise a loan and invest in it."

Four years ago, the 400 billion euros (477 billion dollars) DESERTEC project failed, and all the dreams to establish an energy tank for Europe in the desert have gone with the wind, leaving behind nothing but a continuing state of regional wariness.

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"It seems that another colonial plan such as the ones we have been used to is being developed in front of our eyes," said Hamza Hamouchene, an official in The London-Based Charity of War on Poverty in North Africa And West Asia.

He added: "Projects such as TuNur prevent local citizens from taking full control of their lands and reaching them, deprives them of their resources, and concentrates the resulting value in the hands of greedy elites and local and foreign companies."

The TuNur project says it has agreed to lease the project land from a local tribe which is still considering the project as "very promising."

Kevin Sarra said the use of water would be limited to wastewater from one of the local palm tree plantations, which would not be recycled in any other way. The company would still to be ready to provide electricity inside Tunisia, which is itself facing a shortage in energy.

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