ALGIERS, April 7 (Reuters) - Algeria plans to invite bids for construction of three photovoltaic solar power plants with total capacity of about 4,000 megawatts (MW), and several energy and financial firms are already interested, the energy ministry said.
Algeria, member of the Organization for the Petroleum Exporting Countries, has been exploring renewable energy as a way to meet growing demand for electricity, while also freeing up more natural gas for export.
Energy Minister Nouredine Bouterfa said in a statement late on Thursday the ministry would issue tenders for the three projects, without giving a specific timeline.
The three plants would help meet Algeria's domestic demand for power and allow for exports of power to neighbouring countries, a source at the Energy Ministry told Reuters.
Several financial institutions, including the French Agency for Development and the African Bank for Development, have shown interest in funding the project, according to the Energy Ministry, calling it a "multi-billion dollar" project.
Sonatrach, Algeria's giant state oil and gas firm, would fund about 50 percent of the cost of the three plants, a Sonatrach official said.
Last year, Italy's ENI signed a deal with Sonatrach to develop renewable projects in Algeria.
U.S. firm General Electric had also shown interest in the solar plants with planned capacity of 4,000 MW, the Energy Ministry sources said.
Hit by a crash in revenues due to lower global oil prices, Algeria has been doubling efforts to increase gas exports after several years of stagnant production. Several new gas fields have come on stream in the past year.
Reporting by Lamine Chikhi; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Edmund Blair