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Consortium starts building 150-MW solar farm in Kosovo

PRISTINA (Reuters) - A group of international and local investors have started to build a 150-megawatt (MW) solar farm in western part of Kosovo as the Balkan country is trying to phase out its dependence from coal.

The Solar Energy Group Europe (SEGE) consortium plans to start production within 12 months. The plant is not benefiting from any government subsidies and all the production will have to sell in open market.

More than 90% of domestic production is from coal and the rest is from renewables, mainly wind.

"By harnessing the potential of clean energy, we are paving the road for a more greener and environmentally friendly future," Kosovo's Prime Minister Albin Kurti said during a ceremony marking the construction of the plant close to western town of Gjakova.

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The engineering, procurement and construction of the plant will be carried by the German power equipment and service group Siemens Energy AG.

The annual production is expected to be more than 243,000 megawatt hours (MWh), the company said on its website.

Kosovo is rich in lignite, a soft coal whose relatively low energy content translates to especially toxic pollution when burnt. Kosovo has the world's fifth largest lignite reserves of 12-14 billion tonnes, official figures show.

Its two coal-fired power plants, which are four- and six-decades-old, are some of the most polluting plants in Europe and because of their old technology, they have to be shutdown very often for repairs forcing the poor country to import expensive electricity.

The current government has vowed to end using coal by 2050.

Last week, it launched a 100 MW solar auction hoping to attract investors by offering public land and a 15-year power purchase agreement.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci)