GE Vernova plans green hydrogen project in occupied Western Sahara

A subsidiary of US company General Electric is partnering with the government of Morocco for an infrastructure project in the illegally occupied Western Sahara. 

15 February 2024

Photo: Moroccan energy infrastructure in occupied Western Sahara. @ElliLorz.

GE Vernova, a subsidiary of General Electric Corporation, on 30 January 2024 announced [or download] that it has signed a deal for the construction of a green hydrogen plant in occupied Western Sahara. The firm is partnering with ONEE, Morocco’s state agency for electricity and water, and Nareva, an energy company that is in the portfolio of the Moroccan king.

The project illustrates Morocco's increasing eagerness to develop the green hydrogen potential of the part of Western Sahara that it holds under illegal, military occupation since 1975. A study commissioned by the Moroccan government, published in the spring of 2023, showed that Morocco could most cost-effectively produce green hydrogen in the occupied territory, rather than in Morocco proper. 

The United Nations and international courts are clear that Western Sahara is not part of Morocco.

The GE Vernova press release states that the three partners will undertake an evaluation to decarbonise the 99 MW “Laâyoune” Thermal Power Plant, which is equipped with three GE Vernova 6B heavy-duty gas turbines and runs on heavy fuel oils. Under the plan, one of GE Vernova’s 6B gas turbines will be converted to run entirely on hydrogen. As part of the study, the partners will test an integrated solution to deliver 100% hydrogen to the gas turbine for peak demand periods. The green hydrogen for the converted gas turbine will be produced at “Nareva’s Laayoune wind farm”. 

The study is expected to take two years to complete. The pilot project may lead to the full-scale integration of the gas turbines with green hydrogen and the complete decarbonisation of the power plant.

In October 2023, the Moroccan government’s Finance Bill revealed that it had allocated land for renewable and green hydrogen projects. No less than 81% of that land is located in occupied Western Sahara. An annex to the Finance Bill listed the 14 projects that had been accorded land. The project announced by GE Vernova is not part of this list.

General Electric is not a new pawn in Morocco’s strategy to politically and financially cash in on the renewable potential of the territory it holds under illegal occupation. In September 2021, the firm was contracted by Energie Eolienne du Maroc (EEM) – a subsidiary of Nareva - to install the 200 MW extension to the Aftissat wind farm near the coastal town Boujdour. Aftissat II, as the extension was baptised, runs on 40 GE turbines with a nominal capacity of 5 MW. 

Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) wrote to the General Electric at the time - on 05.10.2021, 10.11.2021 and 15.05.2023 - and has to this point only received this response of 20.10.2021.

A letter was sent to GE Vernova on 5 February 2024, inquiring how the firm relates to the people of Western Sahara's right to self-determination and to the principles of international law that apply to the specific case of the territory. Curiously, a few hours after sending the letter, GE Vernova's press release was no longer accessible. Download the deleted press release here.

On 14 February, we received a generic answer from GE Vernova, not responding to a single question we had raised.

The CEO of ONEE, Abderrahim El Hafidi, states in GE’s new press release that the pilot project should be viewed in the framework of Morocco’s ambition to expand renewable electricity capacity, reinforcing “its position among global leaders in sustainable energy”.

What El Hafidi leaves out, is that Morocco’s reputation as leader in switching to renewables, is rooted in part in the projects it is undertaking on occupied land. Morocco includes these projects in its reporting on emission reductions to the UN’s climate branch, the UNFCCC, thereby inflating its climate leader image. WSRW has repeatedly asked the UNFCCC how it can accept Morocco reporting on projects that are located outside of its national borders. UNFCCC responds that is in no position to reject a country’s climate plans. It should be noted that accepting an NDC whose targets are dependent on actions in an occupied territory outside the relevant Party’s borders is contrary to multiple principles enshrined in the Paris Agreement.

The UNFCCC’s de facto endorsement of Morocco’s continued occupation of Western Sahara comes with devastating impacts for the Saharawi refugees, who had to flee the very areas of their homeland that Morocco is now using for energy projects. They have been displaced to parts of the Saharan desert where the impacts of climate change are more severe than in the coastal areas they had to flee from. The UN’s failure to resolve the occupation also means that the Saharawis remain locked outside of the global climate talks, governance and finance mechanisms they could desperately use to harness themselves for some of the worst impacts. That entire space is taken up by Morocco, which is further anchoring its position with illegal structure projects that involve foreign companies.


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