The bone-dry plains of the Western Sahara may be no place to plant a garden, but their extreme solar irradiance values render them ideal for solar farming. Morocco has persuaded foreign investors to underwrite a $9 billion solar power project. This comprises five separate generating facilities, despite criticism from European lenders over the location of two of those plants.
The five planned solar plants, including two to be located in Western Sahara, would produce 2,000 megawatts annually.
Since 1975, Morocco has controlled most of the Western Sahara, one of the most sparsely populated territories in the world. The former Spanish colony spreads over 100,000 square miles of mostly desert flatland.
The Polisario Front is a liberation movement formally constituted in 1973 with the express intention of militarily forcing an end to Spanish colonization, now seeking an end to Moroccan occupation. Since 1979, the Algeria-backed Polisario has been recognized by the United Nations as the representative of the people of Western Sahara.
According to Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Salaheddine Mezouar, multilateral lenders such as the World Bank, the European Investment Bank and the European Union have told Reuters they would not finance projects based in Western Sahara, because it would mean abandoning a neutral position over the conflict.
“That is their problem. We have no financing problems. We have several (investors); there are Japanese, Chinese, Gulf countries,” Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar told Reuters. He declined to give details on specific financing contracts.
Morocco, a net energy importer, aims to develop renewable power to grow from 8% to 20% of its total energy mix the next decade.
Saudi Arabia’s Acwa Power International won the $1 billion contract for the first solar plant, which is scheduled to start operating next year in Ouarzazate with a capacity of 160 MW. A consortium of three Spanish companies – Sener, Acciona and TSK will build the facility.
“The other four plants will also happen. The goal is to achieve 2,000 MW, and we will continue with our plan. The Western Sahara issue has nothing to do with it. The financing is not conditioned on whether plants are in Sahara or not,” the minister said, “Western Sahara needs renewable energy, and the investment will be made. If some people don’t want to come, others will.”
Image of Western Sahara desert from Shutterstock