NICOSIA – Cyprus plans to switch to natural gas for its energy needs within the next five years, sharply reducing its reliance on heavy fuel now firing power grids, its energy minister said yesterday. It could go ahead with an underwater gas pipeline for a feed from a Middle East regional grid now in the works. The pipeline is designed to supply Egyptian gas to Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, Commerce and Industry Minister Nicos Rolandis told Reuters in an interview. To get the natural gas to Cyprus, we would either use an underwater pipeline from a take-off point in Syria, which is the closest to Cyprus, or by importing liquefied natural gas, Rolandis said. The other alternative would be to import liquefied natural gas (LNG). It could prove more expensive but both options would require significant expense initially, he added. Natural gas is friendly to the environment to start with, more friendly than anything else, and also, by and large, less expensive, Rolandis said. The island hopes to make its switch to natural gas by 2006. By making the switch, the prospective European Union member will also be complying with guidelines set by Brussels for cleaner and safer forms of energy. Consultants were looking at the two options. Experts believe a pipeline would be a less expensive option than LNG, which would need facilities to deliquefy and liquefy it, Rolandis said. Earlier this year Egypt reached agreement with Jordan, Lebanon and Syria on building a pipeline to supply them with gas. The first phase of the network involves a pipeline from Arish in Sinai to Jordan’s Red Sea port of Aqaba. Rolandis said a feed from the pipeline once it reaches Syria could be from the port city of Baniyas. Cyprus now uses some 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil for its three power stations annually. Vassiliko station, the most recent addition to the power grid, plans to install its third and last fuel-fired unit by 2004, producing a total output of 400 megawatts. New additions to the plant will be gas-fired with a game plan to install three new 180-megawatt generators between 2006 and 2009. Equipment decommissioned from other power plants would also be replaced with gas-fired generators, Rolandis said. I do believe that 15 years from now a good part of the electricity of Cyprus will be generated with natural gas, he said.