Mali has joined the race to become home to West Africa’s first utility PV power plant following the signing of an agreement between Norwegian firm Scatec Solar, Mali’s energy ministry and main utility company.

Under its agreement with Mali’s Ministry of Energy and Water and utility Electricité du Mali (EDM), Scatec will build, own and operate a 33MW plant near the town of Segou in the south-east of the country.

The project is being developed in conjunction with IFC InfraVentures, the project arm of the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, and local firm Africa Power 1.

Electricity from the plant will be sold under a 25-year power purchase agreement between EDM and Segou Solaire, the local project company set up Scatec Solar.

Scatec Solar will own 50% of the project, IFC InfraVentures 32.5% and Africa Power 1, 17.5%.

Scatec Solar has become one of the most active utility PV players in Africa, having taken a leading position in South Africa’s renewable energy programme and recently completed an 8.5MW project in Rwanda.

"This project is another great milestone for Scatec Solar,” said the company’s CEO Raymond Carlsen. “After several years of development efforts in the region, we can now move forward with the first utility-scale solar plant in West Africa. The Malian authorities have demonstrated decisive will to tackle the nagging issue of power supply."

Mali’s minister of energy and water, Mamadou Frankaly Keita, said: "This landmark agreement signals the government's commitment to meet the nation's growing energy demand and to provide clean, renewable and affordable energy to our people.”

The honours for hosting West Africa’s first utility-scale PV power plant had been widely expected to go to Ghana, where plans for what would be the continent's biggest PV plant, the 155MW Nzema project, have been in the works for some time.

However, earlier this year PV Tech revealed moves by the Ghanaian government to introduce a cap of 150MW on grid-connected PV projects and an individual project limit of 20MW. These measures had been introduced in response to concerns that a flurry of applications for projects under Ghana’s feed-in tariff would put excessive strain on the country’s grid.

Although Nzema’s developer, the British firm Blue Energy, said its project was immune from the capping measures, progress on the project appears not to have been as swift as had been expected, opening the way for Mali now to steal the bragging rights.