Dirty green energy on occupied land

How can it be wrong to develop renewable energy, in a world that is in desperate need for a green transition? In Western Sahara, the problems are numerous.

22 April 2024
  • Morocco is in desperate need for energy. By building capacity in the territory it holds under occupation, it is making itself dependent on energy projects in that occupied land, and thus on maintaining its military presence there.
  • All but one wind farm in the occupied territory - the exception being a privately owned windmill that supplies a cement factory - are all part of the portfolio of Nareva, the wind energy company that belongs to the holding company of the Moroccan monarchy. As long as the king himself earns money through the projects, what incentive does he have to genuinely engage in the UN peace process?
  • 100% of the energy that the Moroccan state-owned phosphate company OCP needs to exploit Western Sahara’s non-renewable phosphate reserves in Bou Craa are made from windmills. The renewable energy is generated by 22 Siemens wind turbines at the 50 MW Foum el Oued farm, operational since 2013. The Aftissat wind farm, operational since 2018, is also said to be supplying industrial end-users.
  • Morocco risks implicating other states by exporting Western Sahara energy, for instance to the EU. The EU has promised not to import green energy from the territory, but is unlikely the EU will be able to differentiate energy generated in Morocco proper and energy generated in the occupied territory, as it will pass in cables under Strait of Gibraltar. It is a technical impossibility.
  • The UN climate body UNFCCC blindly accepts Morocco's reporting on its energy infrastructure in Western Sahara as part of its own commitments to reach the Paris Agreement targets. This suggests UN recognition and international praise for projects that should be condemned and sanctioned.
  • Morocco has forced a large number of Saharawis out of their homeland, away from the exact areas where it now develops its renewable projects. The Saharawi refugees have been displaced to a part of the Saharan desert where the impacts of climate change will be felt more severely than in the coastal areas they fled 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.

At present, there are five operational wind farms in occupied Western Sahara. Five more are in the planning stage. Combined, these wind farms will have a capacity of over 2000 MW.

A WSRW report from October 2021 elaborates on all the Moroccan renewable projects in the occupied territory that were known at the time.

The renewable development started back in 2012, when Morocco launched a tender for the construction of five wind farms: three in Morocco proper and two in ‘the southern provinces’ – Morocco’s preferred terminology to denominate the part of Western Sahara that it has illegally annexed. The two farms in Western Sahara were conceptualized as a 100 MW farm near Boujdour and a 300 MW farm in Tiskrad, near El Aaiun. The contract for all five farms was given to a consortium led by Siemens, and also including Enel Green Energy and Nareva. In 2019, the contract for the construction of the Boujdour farm was signed – though its capacity had now been raised to 300 MW. Work on the site began in 2021, with supplies from Spain. The farm became operational in July 2023. 

As part of the five-wind-farm deal, Siemens opened a wind turbine factory in Tangiers, in the north of Morocco. The factory was inaugurated in 2017. Its first client was Nareva, with an order for 56 turbines for a wind farm in the occupied territory: Aftissat. In late 2022, Siemens announced it would end production in Tangiers in early 2023. 

The 200 MW Aftissat wind farm has been operational since October 2018. The farm was built by the UK company Windhoist and consists of 56 Siemens Gamesa turbines. The power they generate is destined for industrial users, including OCP, LafargeHolcim Maroc and Ciments du Maroc. Siemens Gamesa has shown no effort to learn from critique from investors and Saharawis. In 2020, eight years after Siemens first announced its first project in Western Sahara, Siemens Gamesa announced a giant delivery to the Boujdour park, referring to Western Sahara as part of Morocco.

“Siemens should demonstrate how its activities in Western Sahara are in line with the interests and wishes of Saharawis, in accordance with the right to self-determination stipulated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Should this not be possible, the company should withdraw from Western Sahara.”  

Erste Asset Management, regarding Siemens AG’s “operations in occupied territory”, Quarterly Engagement Report Q1 2018

In September 2021, a subsidiary of the US company General Electric announced having signed a contract for the development of the 200 MW Aftissat 2 park, referring to the location as being in “Morocco”. The farm appeared to be near completion in 2023.

From 2020, a new series of projects was initiated: 

  • In 2020, Moroccan media reported that the French company Voltalia SA was to construct a 75 MW wind farm in the "province of Laayoune".
  • 2020 saw further progress on Morocco's plans for a monstrous 900 MW windmill park in Dakhla, for the purpose of online bitcoin mining. The Norwegian company DNV GL pulled out of the project due to the controversies involved. The Moroccan Ministry for Energy Transition reports that a first 100 MW is in the pipeline, to be developed by AM WIND.
  • In October 2021, news emerged that a Belgian-Dutch company, Windvision, will construct a windfarm near Dakhla. The 200 MW Biranzarane farm is part of the portfolio of Green of Africa, an energy firm that is co-owned by Morocco’s current prime minister.
  • In 2021, French multinational ENGIE informed WSRW about its plans to build a 40 MW wind powered desalination plant near Dakhla. In 2023, the first wind mill components, provided by Chinese firm Envision Energy, were shipped into the occupied territory.

Morocco is also eager to tap into Western Sahara’s solar potential. The operational solar capacity in the territory is today still relatively modest, consisting of two photovoltaic solar plants with a combined capacity of 100 MW that are up and running. The 80 MW El Aaiún site and the 20 MW Boujdour site were developed under the header of the NOOR PV I project, carried out by a consortium led by ACWA Power, in partnership with Shapoorji Palloni, Chint Group, Sterling & Wilson and Astroenergy. The announcement of ACWA Power’s successful bid was made at the UN Climate Conference, COP22, in Marrakech in November 2016, where the company also signed the contract with Masen, the Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy. The certification of the solar infrastructure programme in the occupied territory was done by the Moroccan-French-UK Vigeo Eiris, which has issued statements strongly supporting Morocco's position on the occupation and which refuses to answer questions from WSRW.

The Moroccan government has announced plans for 350 MW solar farm, called Noor Boujdour II. 

The 5 MW CIMAR wind farm is privately owned by Ciments du Maroc (CIMAR) and produces the electricity required to run the cement grinding factory Indusaha, in El Aaiun. Ciments du Maroc is a subsidiary of Italcementi, which in turn is a subsidiary of HeidelbergCement. The turbines have been installed by Gamesa, currently merged with Siemens Wind Power into Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy S.A. The CIMAR wind farm is the only one not in the portfolio of royal wind company Nareva. Siemens or Siemens Gamesa have equipped all five wind farms in Western Sahara with turbines.

Plans have seemingly also been issued for another solar plant at El Argoub, near Dakhla.

In 2023, a study commissioned by the Moroccan government showed that Morocco’s greatest potential for green hydrogen development lay in occupied Western Sahara. In the autumn of 2023, the Moroccan Government’s Finance Bill for 2024 revealed that it had allocated ‘public land’ to green hydrogen projects: no less than 81% of that land is actually in Western Sahara. One of the listed projects is taking shape, through the teaming up of Moroccan company Falcon Capital Dakhla with the French firm HDF Energy. The project, dubbed “White Dunes”, is scheduled to kick off construction in 2025, with hydrogen production expected for 2028. The 8 GW production project will be underpinned by 10 GW of wind and 7 GW of solar power. Another green hydrogen project that is about to kick off – one that was not mentioned in the Finance Bill - is ran by GE Vernova, a subsidiary of USA-based General Electric. The firm is partnering with ONEE, Morocco’s state agency for electricity and water, and Nareva, the energy company that is in the portfolio of the Moroccan king, to convert its gas turbines in the 99 MW thermal power plant in El Aaiún to running on hydrogen. 

In January 2020, the Moroccan Ministry of Energy and Mines revealed research results that showed two possible areas for geothermal production: the northeast of Morocco proper and the “Tarfaya-Laayoune-Dakhla basins in southern Morocco” – the latter corresponding to the area of Western Sahara that is under Moroccan occupation. In April 2019, the Portuguese company Gesto Energy had been contracted to “identify and study areas with geothermal potential in the provinces of south of Morocco in an area of more than 140,000 km2, corresponding to Moroccan Sahara". Maps included on the firm’s webpage leave little doubt: the area matching the study span practically the entire part of Western Sahara that is presently under Moroccan military control.

Siemens blades at the port of El Aaiun in occupied Western Sahara, in 2013


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