Morocco is currently hosting the 2016 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP22) in Marrakesh aiming to further discuss the achievements of COP21 and the Paris Agreement. Morocco is committed to push its energy mix toward renewable sources, but the country’s green energy plans are increasing geopolitical tensions with the disputed territory of Western Sahara.
For the Kingdom of Morocco, which is heavily dependent on imports when it comes to its energy supply, COP22 is a great opportunity to display its commitment to renewable energy sources and show the world that the North African country is investing massively in renewables. In February 2016, Mohammed VI of Morocco commissioned the construction of the world largest concentrated solar power plant in the town of Ouarzazate, south-east of Marrakesh. When completed, in 2018, it will provide electricity for more than 1 million people in the country. By 2020, the country’s Solar Energy Programme is targeting to reach 2GW of solar power capacity and by 2030, Morocco plans to get most of its energy from renewable sources.
However, when it comes to some of the new renewable energy projects, Morocco plans to construct them in the disputed territory of Western Sahara, which Morocco has occupied back in 1975. In the last 40 years, Western Sahara has been the subject of an international controversy, but although the native Sahrawi people claim they have the right for self-determination and independence, the international community so far has ignored or failed to find a solution for this conflict. Despite strong opposition from campaign groups and human rights organizations, Morocco has taken full advantage of Western Sahara’s natural resources and now it plans to realize some important green energy projects in the territory.
Earlier this year, PVTech reported that three Saudi Arabian energy firms - ACWA Power, Alfanar and Abdul Latif Jameel Energy - are believed to be frontrunners in a solar photo-voltaic (PV) plants development tender after submitting the lowest bids for the construction and operation of the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy’s (MASEN) Noor PV I scheme. “Tariffs submitted by the Saudi companies are in the region of US$6 cents/kWh; a record-low in North African markets, which made them the top three bidders under the scheme”, notes the PVTech article.
The Noor PV I scheme consists of 3 PV plants for a cost of $220 million and a total capacity of 170 MW. Two of the three power plants will be built in Western Saharan cities, El Aaiun and Boujdour, with 80 and 20 MW of capacity, respectively meanwhile, Ouarzazate power plant will take the remaining 70 MW.
The Noor PV I project took another step forward yesterday, when MASEN finally signed a development agreement with ACWA Power during the COP22 conference. Previously, ACWA Power had also worked on the Ouarzazate power plant project.
However, international campaign organizations strongly condemn Morocco’s action to realize projects in Western Sahara, claiming that it will only preserve and further justify the occupation.
According to a recent report published by Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW), an international watchdog organization monitoring the activity of Morocco and foreign companies in Western Sahara “by 2020, more than a quarter of the green energy produced by Morocco will be located in areas under military occupation. No less than 40 percent of Morocco's solar capacity will then come from Western Sahara.”
"We condemn Morocco's increasing energy infrastructure programmes in the territory it holds under occupation. Despite being remarkably green, they are fundamentally dirty, contributing to the upholding of the occupation", said Erik Hagen, Director of The Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara.
There are several foreign companies involved in energy development programmes in Western Sahara. For example, a total of 37 firms applied for the Noor PV I tender, among them Italian Enel Green Power, French EREN Renewable Energy S.A. or Spanish Abener Energía S.A. Another notable international company working in Western Sahara is German giant Siemens, who operates several windmills in the area.
"If one uses the territory of Western Sahara for the benefit of Morocco and for foreign enterprises, without properly consulting the people of Western Sahara or ensuring that they are the ones profiting from the wind energy, it will be in violation of international law and UN principles for responsible business”, said former UN Legal Counsel Hans Corell earlier this month.
Although, there is no real possibility to end the dispute over Western Sahara in the foreseeable future, if Morocco indeed wants to achieve the targets of its ambitious green energy programme it should reconsider to take a different approach to Sahrawi people and the whole discussion regarding the territory. Morocco’s king, Mohammed VI, stated last year that the maximum he can offer to the Sahrawi is autonomy. Perhaps that could be a start for a better understanding, and probably would benefit both sides politically and economically as well. Moreover, a calmer political landscape and mutual understanding would help the development of sustainable green energy projects without harming anyone’s interests.
By Daniel Stemler for Oilprice.com
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