Saudi Arabia has invited pre-qualification bids from leading global and regional construction companies to develop 700MW renewable energy projects under the first phase of its National Renewable Energy Programme, said a report.

The Phase One projects include a 300 MW solar facility at Sakaka in the kingdom’s northern Al Jouf province and a 400 MW wind plant at Midyan in northwestern Tabuk province, reported Bloomberg.

The Ministry of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources has set March 20 as deadline for submitting the pre-qualification bids, said the report.

Those selected will be announced by April 10 and qualified bidders will be able to present their offers for the projects starting on April 17 through July, it stated.

The kingdom has embarked on a massive $50 billion renewable energy plan with focus on solar and wind power to temper domestic oil use in meeting growing energy demand, it added.

It is the first stage to reach 3.45 gigawatts by 2020 and 9.5 GW by the year 2023, according to senior officials.

Later rounds of projects will include other forms of renewable energy such as concentrated solar power (CSP) and waste-to-energy schemes. The renewable projects will all be developed under the IPP model, they stated.

The energy ministry has appointed a team of advisers to provide legal, financial and technical consultancy services for the initial projects, they added.

Japanese bank Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation (SMBC) has been roped in as financial adviser, while UK-based law firm DLA Piper will provide legal advisory and Germany’s Fichtner will take care of the engineering and technical advisory services.

The move comes in line with the Saudi government’s plan to develop almost 10 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2023, requiring investment of $30 billion to $50 billion, said the Bloomberg report.

Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan and Morocco are developing renewable energy to either curb their fuel imports or conserve more valuable oil that could otherwise be exported.

“This marks the starting point of a long and sustained program of renewable energy deployment in Saudi Arabia that will not only diversify our power mix but also catalyze economic development,” Khalid Al-Falih, the energy minister.

The ministry’s Renewable Energy Project Development Office intends to set up “the most attractive, competitive and well executed government renewable energy investment programs in the world,” stated Al Falih.

Building more solar, wind and nuclear power plants is part of a broader plan that the kingdom announced in April to diversify away from crude sales as the main source of government income, he added.