CAIRO, March 10 (Reuters) - Egypt, which has been cutting back on natural gas supplies to cement factories, said on Monday it would permit cement companies to use coal for energy.
The government hopes to forestall an energy crisis this summer and the likelihood of sustained gas shortages in the coming years.
"We will let cement companies use coal ... but in parallel they must abide by strict environmental regulations," Industry and Investment Minister Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour told a news conference. He said the first factory to begin running on coal will do so in September.
The move had been debated for months by the military-backed government installed after the army ousted President Mohamed Mursi last July.
Allowing energy-intensive factories to run on coal was opposed by the environment and tourism ministries, Abdel Nour had told journalists in January.
Officials have been warning for months that domestic supplies of oil and gas are insufficient to cover the needs of industry and household consumption.
The government fears public anger over blackouts and has in recent years opted to reduce gas feedstock to cement factories instead of cutting supplies to households.
The Oil Ministry said on Monday that the government had reduced the supply of natural gas to cement factories in the first two months of this year, forcing plants to use more diesel. (Reporting By Ehab Farouk; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Jason Neely)