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The Ambassador of Italy Massimo Marotti has announced a €5 million ($5.5 million) soft loan to be granted for the implementation of renewable energies in residential buildings.

The loan will be pooled into the National Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Action (NEEREA) mechanism funding. NEEREA loans are subsidized by the Central Bank (BDL) with near zero percent interest rate over 14 years.

Rani Achkar, senior programs engineer at the Lebanese Center for Energy Conservation (LCEC), said: “In order for the applicant to be eligible for this particular assistance, 60 percent of supplies have to be of Italian origin or made by Italian companies.”

Italy is also helping the Shouf Biosphere Reserve expand its biomass plant. The plant transforms forest and agricultural residues into ‘briquettes’ for heating use.

Nizar Hani, General Manager of the Reserve, said: “We are in the process of enlarging the plant’s production from one million briquettes per year to ten million.”

The value of a thousand briquettes, which weigh a ton, is $200. According to Hani, an average mid-altitude household requires 2,000 briquettes per winter, costing around $400.

“It is 40 percent cheaper than fuel and 30 percent cheaper than wood,” he said.

When the plant expansion is completed, it wil be able to cover demand of the entire Shouf area. “People are now asking for our help to replicate the experiment in other locations like Metn and West Bekaa,” he said.

Hani said demand for briquettes will gradually be higher than fuel because it is 50 percent less expensive and more environmentally friendly.

Italy has previously provided a $7.7 million soft loan for the development of industrial zones in three areas: Baalbek, Terbol, and Jleilieh. About 40 to 65 percent of power to be produced by the zones will be generated by renewable and alternative energies, according to the embassy.