Saudi Arabia’s renewable energy procurement body has kicked off the nation’s solar energy program by sealing a privately financed contract with ACWA Power to develop a 300-MW plant. Due to start operating next year, the plant will cover more then 6 sq kilometers at Sakaka, nearly 1,000 km northwest of Riyadh. Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih valued the privately financed deal at roughly $300 million. The government’s Renewable Energy Project Development Office awarded the contract for its first solar plant as part of a national plan to deliver 3.45 GW of renewable energy by 2020, rising to 9.5 GW by 2023. Local company ACWA beat a rival consortium including Japan’s Marubeni Corp. with a proposed electricity tariff of about 2.3¢ per kWh, backed by a 25-year power purchase agreement with Saudi Power Procurement Co. Six other bidders failed to make the final shortlist of two.