* Hydro project in northern Gabon will have 70 MW capacity
* Project to be operated under public-private partnership
* OPEC member Gabon looks to diversify economy (Updates throughout)
By Tom Daly
BEIJING, Sept 1 (Reuters) - Chinese energy firm TBEA will invest in a 180 million euro ($209 million) hydropower project in Gabon alongside the West African country’s sovereign wealth fund, a Gabonese official said on Saturday.
Construction will begin “pretty soon” on the project, which will have a power generation capacity of 70 megawatts in the first phase, Liban Soleman, general coordinator of the Bureau of Coordination and Planning for an Emerging Gabon, told Reuters in an interview in Beijing.
“There are going to be multiple phases,” said Soleman, who is in the Chinese capital for the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, adding that the project, known as FE2, was located in the north of Gabon near the border with Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea.
Gabon, a member of Opec pumping just under 200,000 barrels of crude oil per day and one of the world’s biggest producers of manganese, is working to diversify its economy, which is projected to grow by around 2.2 percent this year, said U.S.-educated Soleman, who also chairs Gabon’s National Agency for Investment Promotion.
The investment by TBEA, a private company involved in wind power in China and solar power in Pakistan, according to its website, will be “direct .. not with debt”.
The website said TBEA saw the deal as a public-private partnership with the Gabonese Strategic Investment Fund. TBEA could not immediately be reached for comment outside of normal working hours.
“There is a lot of foreign direct investment happening in Gabon from Chinese companies,” often in special industrial zones, Soleman added.
Another example was a $50 million-$100 million progressive investment by Jiangsu Wanlin Modern Logistics Co., which has started building a factory to make high-quality furniture in Gabon’s capital, Libreville, he said.
Gabonese President Ali Bongo was due to hold a bilateral meeting with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Saturday afternoon, Soleman added.
$1 = 0.8621 euros Reporting by Tom Daly Editing by Eric Meijer