An increasing part of the wind and solar programs that Morocco is promoting are located in Western Sahara, a disputed territory between the Kingdom of Morrocco and the Saharawi indigenous people, led by the Polisario Front.
Western Sahara was a Spanish colony and then annexed by Morroco in 1975. Since then, the territory has been subject to a dispute between de facto administrative control of Morrocco and the declaration of the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). Until date, the status and sovereignty of Western Sahara remains unresolved and the United Nations has listed it as a non-decolonized and non-self-governing territory.
One of the strategic reasons of Morroco’s occupation of Western Sahara resides in its great reserves of natural resources: phosphate, fishing grounds, oil deposits, and more recently, potential to develop large-scale renewable energies. The legal owner of the land, the Saharawi people, have never consented to the Moroccan projects. Half of the territory’s original population has fled the country since Morocco invaded it in 1975.
A report published by the Western Sahara Resource Watch (2016) details that today’s renewable energy production in Western Sahara constitutes around 7% of Morocco’s total energy production from such sources. By 2020, this amount could be increased to 26.4 percent.
One of the most controversial projects is Foum El Oued, a Siemens Wind Power Plant providing 95% of the energy needed by the Moroccan state Phosphate Company (OCP) operating in El Aaiún (the capital of Western Sahara). The Wind Power plant started its operations in 2013 and is located right next to the phosphate plant and 9km south east of the port of El Aaiún. Nearly every week, a bulk vessel departs from this port with a cargo of phosphate rock to be sold to fertilizer producers overseas. According to the Western Sahara Resource Watch, Morocco has exploited and exported this non-renewable and valuable mineral in occupied Western Sahara for 40 years. Several investors and importers have ceased their participation in this business, acknowledging it as violating international law and the rights of the people of the territory to manage their own resources.
“Foum El Oued is located in a region that according to the United Nations is currently subject to a UN mission”, Siemens added to the press release in September 2012, after WSRW had asked the company not to enter in contracts for infrastructure on occupied land. The press release is still there, on the Siemens website, claiming that the farm is in Morocco. One single shipment of phosphates can be worth as much as a third of the entire annual humanitarian aid to the refugees from Western Sahara, who are the owners of the mineral.
Another project already constructed is CIMAR, inaugurated in 2011 at the factory of Ciments du Maroc (CIMAR), a cement grinding factory, owned by Italcementi Group.
The wind farm was constructed by Italgen; a spin-off of Italcementi that operates in the renewable energy sector. The farm is dubbed Driss Cherrak, and is composed of a small 150 kW turbine that was installed in 2003, and six 850 kW turbines that were installed in July 2011. The farm supplies the CIMAR factory with energy – any surplus is sold to ONEE through a partnership deal.
Two other projects are currently in construction: TISKRAD (300 MW) and BOUJDOUR (100 MW). Both projects are being carried by Siemens, Enel and Nareva Holding (owned by the King of Morroco), and will be part of Morocco’s 850 MW ‘Integrated Wind Energy Program’. Both Siemens and Enel referred to the entire project as located in ‘Morocco’, failing to distinguish between Morocco and the land it illegally occupies.
Concerns of the WSRW towards these projects are the following: “Gives an aura of legitimacy to Morocco’s annexation of the territory in circumstances that continue to delay the Saharawi people’s exercise of self-determination and undermine the UN peace process; Involves large foreign companies in an already complex conflict dynamic through the construction of physical infrastructure inside occupied Western Sahara; will, because of increased electrical capacity in the territory, allow additional Moroccan settlers to remain in Western Sahara. Worryingly, it appears that part of the electricity is intended for export to Morocco’s national grid itself. In turn, Morocco becomes even more economically connected to, and dependent on, the territory it has occupied; will not create benefits for the Saharawi people who live in refugee camps in Algeria. The majority of this population has only limited access to electrical power, with resulting problems in terms of safety, food hygiene, education and limited social activities.”
In the context of the COP22, the Moroccan government promoted its solar and wind energy projects (including those located in Western Sahara). During the launching of the Conference, hundreds of Saharaui refugees concentrated in the Argelian desert with a big banner saying “Siemens, Enel, stop your dirty works in Western Sahara”. The mobilization was organized by the Saharaui Youth Union (UJSARIO) of the Polisario Front, and the WSRW. In this context, the UN Expert Comitee stated its concerns on the lack of consultation processes in resource exploitation in Western Sahara.
The COP22 inauguration coincided with the 44th anniversary of the “Green March”, when thousands of Saharauies escaped from their territory and settled in refugee camps in Argelia. One of the leaders of UJSARIO, stated that this mobilization is against the general exploitation of Morroco in Western Sahara.