The Tunisian Industry and Technology Ministry is planning to issue a request for proposals (RFP) to developers to build a 1,200MW Elmed independent power project (IPP) in the third quarter of 2011.

According to a source close to the deal, the ministry intends to award a contract to build the project by early 2012 so that the power plant is completed by early 2017. The scheme will comprise a thermal power plant along with a renewable energy component of at least 100MW.

The project will have a total capacity of 1,200MW, of which 400MW will supply the local utility Societe Tunisienne de l’Electricite et du Gaz (Steg). The remaining 800MW will be exported to Italy through an interconnection project, that is to be built by Steg in partnership with Italian company Terna.

The interconnection project, which is a subsea transmission line between Tunisia and Sicily, was launched in March 2007 when Italy’s then Economic Development Minister Pier Luigi Bersani and Tunisia’s Industry, Energy and Small and Medium Entreprises Minister Afif Chelbi signed a joint declaration with the consortium and defined its mandate.

The successful bidder will develop the project on a build-own-operate basis under a 20 to 30-year concession. The project has been stalled for almost a year. The ministry issued the request for qualification in April 2010 with a deadline of 26 July 2010 for submissions. It has progressed very little since.

Many factors contributed to the latest delays. The ministry’s decision to cancel another IPP at Bizerte at a very late stage in the tender process in favour of an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) project deterred many would-be bidders for Elmed.

The uprisings that started in Tunisia in December 2010 further threatened the future of the Elmed project along with many other large infrastructure projects.  

However, even before the most recent events, the project experienced delays. The ministry originally planned to launch the prequalification for the Elmed project in December 2009, but this was extended so that the bid documents can be finalised. As a result, while the IPP was originally to come online in 2015-16, it was later revised to 2016-17.