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Tarfaya Windfarm Complex, Western Sahara


The construction of the Tarfaya windmill complex started in January 2013, and was completed within two years, launching in 2015. Today it stretches more than 100,000 hectares across the Saharan desert [1].  In 2010, the government decided to double its national wind energy production through developing an additional 1000 MW by 2020. 40% of that added capacity, or 400 MW, is to be developed within the occupied area [1].

While the village of Tarfaya itself sits on the Moroccan side of the Western Sahara border, four existing or soon-to-exist windfarms are situated on the other side.   In 2016, Ban Ki Moon described the situation in Western Sahara as an ‘occupation’. Western Sahara has been occupied by Morocco, just north along the coast, since 1975.  The story of the conflict for Western Sahara’s natural resources (including wind power)  is the story of the colonization of Western Sahara.

The village of Tarfaya is surrounded by military checkpoints, as well as 12 waves of wind turbines.

The main issues around the windfarm complex revolve around the lack of jobs and most importantly the implications for the peace process.

Of the plant’s 60 or so workers, only three office staff members and 15 security guards are Saharawi (2).   The struggle for sovereignty is intertwined with the opposition to the exploitation of the windfarm in that the wishes and interests of the local population are not being respected. Crucially, the operation is contributing to the continuance of the unresolved international legal situation, and thus Morocco’s presence and resource exploitation in a territory over which it does not have legitimate sovereignty [1].   Leading opponents of socio-economic marginalisation of the Saharawis are serving life sentences in Moroccan jails.  In 2016, during the COP22 hosted in Marrakech, there were protests in some of the Saharawi refugee camps across the border to Algeria, calling on attendees to learn about the injustices committed by the Moroccan government and the way in which ‘sustainable” or “green” projects are used to cement the occupation as well as extract resources for the benefit of the Moroccan government over the local Saharawi population. The demonstrations were organised by three youth groups.   Ali Salem Tamek, the vice-president of Codesa, a Saharawi human rights collective, referred to the complexity around the need to remain critical of green projects when they are part of a colonial project: “It is amazing to have green energy. It is our responsibility as human beings to protect the world we live in, but if you occupy your neighbours’ yard to produce that green energy – and sell it to them at the end – believe me, your neighbours will not be happy about it.” [2]

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Tarfaya Windfarm Complex, Western Sahara
Location of conflict:Laâyoune-Boujdour-Sakia el Hamra
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Land acquisition conflicts
Specific commodities:Electricity

Project Details and Actors

Project details

131 wind turbines

Nominal power 301,300 kW

Project area: 10,000
Level of Investment:49,604,395,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:Saharawi people
Start of the conflict:01/01/2013
Company names or state enterprises:GDF Suez (GDF Suez) from France - Owned and operated by 50/50 joint venture between GDF Suez and Nareva Holding.
Nareva Holding from Morocco - Owned and operated by 50/50 joint venture between GDF Suez and Nareva Holding.
Trarfaya Energy Company (Tarec) from Morocco - Constructor
Siemens from Germany - Turbines manufacturers
Suez Energy from France
Relevant government actors:National Electricity Office
International and Finance InstitutionsThe World Bank from United Kingdom
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:CODESA (collective of Sahrawi human rights defenders),Western Sahara Resources Watch

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageUnknown
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local government/political parties
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local and international human rights groups, eg. CODESA (Collective of Saharawi Human Rights Defenders)
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights
Potential: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Criminalization of activists
Violent targeting of activists
Development of alternatives:Referendum on sovereignty for Saharawis
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The campaign for divestment is not as strong as in other projects in occupied Western Sahara (eg. Bou Craa mine), but the wider movement for Saharawi independence carries with it demands for sovereignty over natural resources.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[2] Arthur Neslen (2016) Africa's biggest windfarm sparks controversy in the desert. The Guardian Online. 22 November 2016.

[1] WSRW (2016). Powering the Plunder. What Morocco and Siemens are hiding at COP22, Marrakesh. WSRW Report - November 2016. Online.

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

World Bank project page

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

CODESA Facebook page

Other documents

Tarfaya’s windfarm features 131 turbines. (Credit: Arthur Neslen)

27 September 2016, hundreds of Saharawi refugees protest against Siemens' involvement in occupied Western Sahara (Credit: WSRW)

Meta information

Contributor:Platform London
Last update06/03/2017



Tarfaya’s windfarm features 131 turbines. (Credit: Arthur Neslen)

27 September 2016, hundreds of Saharawi refugees protest against Siemens' involvement in occupied Western Sahara (Credit: WSRW)